A Brokedown Melody

When Jon is twelve, his parents move the family to Hawai’i.

Jon’s not too happy about this. He likes his home, his school, his friends. Even when the kids at school look at him in awe for going somewhere crazy like Hawai’i, Jon can’t even think it’s cool because they are leaving Chicago, and the thought makes Jon want to cry and scream at the same time. He doesn’t, though, because his mom holds him close and whispers in his hair, “You’re going to love it, sweetie. It’s so beautiful there,” and Jon maybe hates making his mother sad more than he hates being sad himself. So he packs up his things and says goodbye to all his friends and doesn’t cry or scream or hide once and Jon thinks he’s kind of being like a grown-up, just a little. It doesn’t stop him from carving his name on the inside of his closet, though. Just so the house remembers him.

Jon’s mother’s job pays for all their moving costs, and their whole life is shut up in a truck that will eventually go on a boat that will eventually show up at their new house, on an island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But Jon and his family take a plane flight to Los Angeles, and then a plane flight to O’ahu, and Jon thinks that planes are really pretty cool and maybe make up a little for missing the school recital this year. His eyes are glued to the window, and he doesn’t take them away even when his dad, who’s dozing next to Jon, rustles in the seat and takes Jon’s small hand in his. Jon would care way more about holding his dad’s hand except they are really high up and the Rocky Mountains may look like the soft folds of leather in the ancient couch at his grandfather’s, but he doesn’t think they’re really that nice.

They land in LA, and the layover takes forever, until everyone’s in a bad mood and all Jon wants to do is curl up in his own bed in his own house but he can’t because that house is gone now. His face curls up and he can feel the tears welling in his eyes. He tries to press them away, but his mother just pulls him close in a corner of the half-empty gate and rocks him against her. She smells like the same laundry detergent she always has, and the faint hint of the perfume she wears, and Jon thinks that maybe home isn’t about a place but about people.

Bill and Mike entertain themselves by playing Uno to the Death, and Jon takes a nap, even though he’d never call it one. Finally they board the plane. Jon switches and gets the window seat again, and this time the outside is just blue, blue, blue, as far as he can see. After awhile it gets kind of boring looking at the same unchanging thing, so he leans back in his chair and watches the in-flight movie, but every couple of minutes his eyes flick back to the window, as if to check that the ocean is still rolling out beneath them.

They land in O’ahu tired and cranky and everyone pretty much wants to collapse in the hotel room they’ll be staying at for a couple of days, but there’s still the luggage to sort out and Jon and Bill are perched on top of the bags while his dad and Mike grab the rest of them off the carousel and his mom gets the rental car. He helps put things in the trunk and climbs in, and even though it’s still light outside, his eyes slip closed and he falls asleep as soon as the car starts.

When he wakes up, it’s to the cool rumble of the air conditioner in their hotel room. He’s half covered by a really ugly pineapple-patterned coverlet and his dad is reading the paper by the soft light over the desk.

“You awake, Jon?” his dad asks, looking up from the paper. Jon nods, and they go downstairs to order some dinner from the restaurant. His mom has taken his brothers to play mini-golf, the teenagers too cool for things like sleep. Jon keeps smelling the air; it smells different from Chicago, but his dad just laughs when he says that and replies that it’s probably just Jon smelling unpolluted air for the first time. Jon doesn’t think so–or at least, it’s not just that. There’s something else under it, something tangy and a little sweet.

They eat dinner, chicken fingers and fries for Jon, because he’s so happy it’s on the menu he could hug the waitress, and something with mangoes for his dad, which sounds kind of gross and looks too orange on the plate. Jon’s legs kick under the table, and he accidentally kicks off one of his flip-flops. He has to run to grab it from where it lands by the next table over, and he apologizes even though the people at the table say it’s okay. His dad looks at him with a weird mixture of approval and disapproval, but Jon’s been getting that look for years so he just shrugs and goes back to his chicken.

When they finish, his dad suggests they go for a walk, and Jon is tired but too keyed up to go back to bed, so he says yes. They leave the hotel and the full force of that smell hits Jon again. He screws up his face trying to figure it out, but he can’t, and he trails along after his father. After crossing the road there’s some springy grass that looks too green to really be natural, and then sand under Jon’s feet. He takes off his flip-flops and the sand is still warm. Jon has walked on sand before; the North Shore is all reclaimed and Jon’s family used to spend every weekend of the summer out on the lake, with the rest of Chicago. The little waves would lap at Jon’s feet as he ran in and out of the lake, and he built sand-castles with the other kids he met.

This sand feels different, though; finer, and whiter. The sun has almost completely gone down, and the sound of the waves is a rhythmic crash that draws Jon closer. His dad says, “Don’t go in, Jon, but you can go close,” so he abandons his flip-flops next to where his father has reclined on the beach and walks closer to the ocean. It’s the first time he’s seen it up close, and it’s nothing and everything like the Discovery Channel shows it on television.

The waves are big, the force with which they land against the water and the land so massive that the closer Jon gets the more he can’t hear anything else. The water that looked so clear and blue from the plane has taken on a darker hue with the last ripple of sunset orange striking across it, and Jon’s fingers are itching to touch. He satisfies himself with getting close to where the water creeps up the sand after every wave, letting his toes curl in the wet sand and listening to the same endless beat, again and again and again until Jon thinks his heart is beating in time.

He doesn’t even realize he’s been standing and staring at the ocean for that long until his dad comes up next to him and says, “So that’s the Pacific, Jon. A little bit bigger than Lake Michigan, huh?”

Jon looks up at him and sees the amusement on his face, but also an echo of the same pleasure Jon is feeling. Jon leans against his dad, letting a hand come to rest on his shoulder, and he closes his eyes and listens to the thrum of the waves beat through his body. He thinks maybe he could like it here.


It’s expensive living on O’ahu, but his mom’s job helped them find a house and Jon’s dad is pretty close to signing a contract for a job too, so Jon doesn’t worry about it apart from the fact that he gets double pocket money from what he got at home. It doesn’t go as far, though he never has to pay for El fares or bus tickets anymore because most stuff is within walking distance and the stuff that isn’t, well, someone can always give him a lift.

Their neighbors are a mixture of families that have lived in Hawai’i all their lives, and people who have come to Hawai’i to retire (though some of them aren’t even old, Jon observes; they say “retire” the same way Jon’s uncle says “my friend” when he talks about his roommate, and Jon doesn’t get it but he knows they’re said the same), and some families that have moved out to work for the same company Jon’s mother works for. School’s starting in a couple of weeks and Jon’s a little worried about that, because the kids might be really different here than they were at home. Sixth grade’s a sucky year to move, anyway, because he was just getting ready to go to the middle school back home–back in Chicago–and now he has to start all over again.

He tries not to think about it though, and it’s easier when he’s at the beach kicking around sand and playing in the waves. Most of the time his dad goes with him, and they both take books and sandwiches and lots and lots of sunblock; but after a week and a half his dad seems to decide that it’s safe enough for Jon to go by himself, though Jon has to call in the afternoon from the pay phone on the corner. Everyone in their neighborhood is really friendly and no one locks their doors, and Jon learns quickly who he can beg rides to the beach from and who he can’t. There’s more people willing to let him off at the beach than aren’t, though, and Jon’s parents don’t mind as long as he’s back in time for dinner.

He doesn’t do a lot, splashing around at the water’s edge and slowly building up the courage to swim through the waves. He sits on the beach and soaks up the sun, warm in a different way from the sticky-sweet Chicago summers, and reads a lot. His tan comes on quickly, and his mother laughs and kisses the top of his sun-bleached hair, but he knows she’s pleased that he is adapting so well.

School starts, and Jon has paid enough attention at the beach to guess what’s appropriate to wear to school. Here, there’s no rule against flip-flops, and the cafeteria food is actually pretty okay. He finds someone to sit with at lunch, and gets through the day without being hassled, so he counts it as a win. As soon as he gets home he throws his stuff in his room and puts on his swim trunks, yelling at his father that he’d be home for dinner and catching a ride with Mrs. Lyman out to the smaller, less populated beach Jon prefers.

He runs into the water, body meeting the brunt force of a wave, and when he comes out he shakes his hair out before collapsing onto the sand. He lets the sun dry him off, and he’s just thinking about opening his book when a shadow falls over him. He blinks open his eyes, and there’s a girl standing over him, her head tilted slightly to the side.

“Hey,” she says. “You’re in my English class, aren’t you?”


It turns out Jon is indeed in Anne Marie’s English class, and he might be taking her science class too. She sits next to him, setting her surfboard carefully next to her before turning back to Jon. He tells her that he just moved from Chicago, and Anne Marie says she moved here when she was six from the mainland too.

Jon threads his arms around his knees and thinks it’s kind of cool that he’s talking to a girl he’s never met before in Hawai’i, but he doesn’t say anything like that, just asks about her surfboard. Anne Marie’s eyes light up and she starts talking really fast about surfing and the competitions she’s been in and how much time she spends on the water.

“I’ve never been surfing before,” he says, and her eyes widen comically.

“Oh my god! You have to come surfing with me right now!” she says, and Jon says okay because he doesn’t think people often say no to Anne Marie.

He’s never really paid much attention to the surfers before–he’d noticed they were there, and sometimes he would watch them lap out to the waves before riding them back, but he hadn’t given any thought to doing it himself. He did some boogie boarding, because it was fun and it was funny watching his dad try to hold himself upright, but Jon didn’t think about surfing at all, really.

Anne Marie thinks about surfing all the time.

She watches the waves carefully for a minute before deciding it’s okay to go out, and she and Jon paddle just far enough out that Jon freaks a little, silently, before cramming it back down. Anne Marie doesn’t notice, just arranges the board and shows him how to get up on it. Jon tries, and slips a couple times, but finally balances on his stomach to Anne Marie’s satisfaction. She sits behind him, showing him what to do with his hands and how to brace himself, and then twists back around really quickly.

“Okay, I think we’ve got one,” she says. “Let’s go!”

They start moving really quickly, and Jon is cycling his arms frantically and he thinks his feet are going to slip off, but then his weight shifts as the wave starts to crest beneath them and Anne Marie is standing and he is standing with her and then they are standing on a wave and Anne Marie’s arms are around his, helping keep them steady. Their feet brace against the board and Jon looks up at the sand rushing towards them and he can’t help himself, he just laughs and laughs until the wave finally peters out and they fall over the sides into the water.

When he drags himself onto the beach and plopped himself down, he feels a big, stupid smile cover his face, and he turns to Anne Marie when she sits down beside him and says, “That was awesome.

She grins back. “I know.”


Jon Walker is sixteen and this is not his first surfing competition.

He’s been around the scene for a couple years now and he knows he’s going to have to work to beat these guys–Damien Sparks, Bobby Fisher, and Kelo Jameson. They’ve all beaten him before, even though Jon is probably better than they are.

He didn’t really want to compete in NSSA Juniors this year, but Eden’s been bugging him for awhile about going further with his surfing and arguing with Eden is like arguing with a oncoming wave–pointless and ultimately unsatisfying. All three of them, he and Eden and Anne Marie, entered the juniors tournament the first year Jon moved there, and when Jon got third place, Eden seemed to take it as a cue to ride Jon’s ass for the rest of his life about competing.

“Why do you care so much?” he murmured at her one night when they were camping out by one of the firepits, sleepy and full and maybe just a little bit drunk.

Eden’s dark eyes looked back at him from across the fire. Anne Marie’s head was in her lap, and her fingers were stroking through Anne Marie’s tangled blonde hair. “Because,” she said, “I can dream for you until you get one of your own.”

Jon didn’t really understand what that meant, but since he fell asleep two seconds later he thinks he probably imagined the conversation anyway.

This competition, though, is pretty important, because whoever wins gets a pretty big chunk of prize money, but more importantly, an invitation to compete at the Pacific Rim tournament, which is a chance for real recognition and probably sponsorship. It’s what every kid here is hungry for, and there’s no shortage of competition on any part of Hawai’i. More than one kid out of here has made it big on the pro circuit from this competition, and Jon doesn’t really know what he wants to do with his life but this is pretty good for now.

The girls’ rounds are tomorrow, and Anne Marie, Eden, and Lena are all crowded around the water station, eying the surfboards lined up in a crooked row in the sand and talking shit about them. Kelo’s over harassing JJ, who isn’t in the running because his mother wouldn’t let him; Damien is wiping down his board for the hundredth time, and Kala, Drew and Bobby are trying not to look like they’re staring at the girls when they so obviously are.

Jon rolls his eyes, and when he turns to the girls Lena waves him over. He trudges through the warming sand, his flip flops in his back pocket and his shirt already starting to stick to his back. He grabs a glass of water from the table and gulps it down, throwing an arm around Lena and smiling at Eden and Anne Marie, who are leaning against each other with matching impenetrable looks. Jon’s glad that he’s only ever been friends with these chicks. He thinks they’re pretty scary otherwise.

“What’s up, wahines? You out seeing the sights?” he says, shifting as Lena moves to rest her head on his shoulder.

“Nah, we’re just watching the animals at play,” Eden says with a dark smirk.

Jon laughs. He’s been immune to Eden’s biting sarcasm since they were kids and she called him a stupid-head and kicked him in the shins. After that, everything seemed pretty tame.

“You ready to go out there?” Anne Marie asks, stealing his water for herself.

Jon shrugs. He’s not thinking about it too much, to be honest. He’ll either do well or he won’t, but there’s no point second guessing something that hasn’t even happened yet. “I guess so.”

Eden’s eyes narrow. “Have you been working on that backhand snap? Because you were turning out a little too far, Jon, and that’s gonna cost you points with the judges if you don’t rein it in.”

Jon shrugs again. “Yeah,” he says noncommitally.

Eden steps up and looks him in the eye. “Jon Walker, I could kick your ass from here to Sunday. You know that, right?”

Jon just flicks his sunglasses down and gives her that grin he knows she hates, the one that says, “Sorry, Mr. Pukui, I was only late because I had to go to Starbucks after surfing and before I hit first period.”

“Don’t worry about it, Eden,” he says. “I’ll either place or I won’t. It’s no big deal.”

“It’s five thousand dollars worth of big deal,” Anne Marie points out.

Luckily the event organizer yells for everyone to start suiting up so Jon doesn’t have to answer. They’re half an hour from the first wave, and the girls have to clear out to the bleachers while the contestants get ready. The girls give him a hug and Jon heads over to where the other guys are ducking behind the panel to pull on their wetsuits.

Jon tugs his shirt off and throws it in a heap with his sunglasses and his flip flops, shimmying out of his shorts and grabbing his suit. He’d rather just wear a pair of trunks and no shirt, but the rules for teenagers are pretty clear, so he pulls his on and gets Kelo to make sure his number is fastened on tight. While everyone is stretching and waiting for the signs to star, Jon sneaks a couple of pictures at funny angles, just to see what happens. He wants to catch that nervous, off-kilter feeling everyone’s sharing. There’s not a lot of talking going on, just a couple of jokes that fall a little flat, and Jon finds it easy to get into the focused mindset he needs to do this.

His family is out on the bleachers, his dad ostentatious in a loud orange shirt and his mom watching Jon’s every movement with slightly worried eyes. He waves to them and to Bill, who’s heading out to the mainland in a couple weeks for college, following Mike who went two years ago.

Jon’s mom has never been entirely comfortable with surfing, but she won’t say anything as long as he’s passing his classes and showing up for Sunday dinner. He’s pretty lucky, he knows; his dad’s been in his corner ever since he started, taking him to buy his first surf board and getting him some lessons. Bill and Mike were never much interested in waves, preferring instead soccer (Bill) and girls (Mike).

Jon’s had a couple of scrapes, and he’s broken his arm from surfing, but he’s never had anything serious happen. That doesn’t stop his mom from worrying, though. It took two months of convincing to let him compete for this, and he only did it because he would have gotten too much shit from his friends to not try.

To be honest, Jon thinks he’d probably be pretty happy hanging out on the beach, working at one of the shops on the boardwalk to party at night and surf in the morning. But Mike’s at UC Santa Barbara, and Bill scored a soccer scholarship to UCLA, and Jon knows he’s going to start getting pressure to do something about school soon. He’s trying not to think about it, though. He can’t think of anything he wants to do seriously, nothing at all.

The administrator comes in and tells them to get their boards, and it’s weirdly solemn even as the crowd is cheering for them. Jon knocks fists with Kelo and Damien, and nods at Bobby, and they grab their boards and line up for the start. Jon’s going third, which is a good place to be, so he plants his board in the sand and wishes he could wear his sunglasses.

After the judges are introduced and there’s a little speech on the rules and what’s being awarded, Bobby squares his shoulders and waits for the horn. When it goes off, he sprints to the water and starts paddling out. He discards the first wave and takes the second, breaking to the left and riding it out until the wind shifts suddenly and he wipes out. The timer stops at eight seconds, which is a pretty good run. At a 7.8 point margin, Bobby’s set the score for the rest of them.

The rescue team watches closely as Bobby surfaces and raises his hand to show that he’s okay before paddling back out to the shore. Everyone cheers when he trots back to the tent. “Good luck, dudes,” he says seriously, planting his board in the sand and chugging some water.

Kelo’s up next, and he practically scampers out when the horn blares. Predictably, he takes the first wave, snapping out right and wiping out half a second before Bobby’s recorded time, which costs him a needed point despite the strength of his stance. When he heads back in, he’s obviously disappointed, but he hides it with a grin and punches Jon lightly in the shoulder. “Good waves, buddy,” he says, and Jon smiles back, just a little, before heading out to the start point for his turn.

He shuts everything out in his head, all the noise and the people and even the rush of the waves until all he sees is the point on the horizon he’s aiming for, and when the horn goes off he starts running before he’s even caught up with himself.

He paddles hard, churning his arms through the whitewater. He doesn’t even feel the burn through his shoulders. He can’t hear anything except a white rush, and all he sees is blue. He pearls through the first wave, feeling it roll over him like an unrelenting caress, and pushes up to top out. The next one is his, he thinks unnecessarily, and when it starts to crest he feels himself rise and pick up speed.

He’s running on autopilot, wrenching the board right as the wave breaks. He surges up just as the wave lifts him, and for a second he’s soaring, until his feet land squarely on the board and he swings into his stance, goofy-foot and tight.

For a blind second he closes his eyes, just letting the feeling of bring propelled toward the sky roll through him; and when he opens them again his gaze lands steady on the shore and he lets the lick of the wave run out, turning to a crouch as it tapers off and collapses back into the ocean. The pressure pushes him down onto the board, and he feels a wave curl up behind him, bracing against his board as it breaks. The inertia is enough to set him towards the shore, and when he comes up for air he swims back towards the beach, tugging his board out of the water and shaking the ocean out of his eyes.

He just stands there a second, looking at the sand and feeling his heartbeat thundering through his veins, until one of the guys from the rescue team comes up to him, putting a hand on his shoulder and asking, “You okay, son?”

Jon musters up a smile and looks at him. “Yeah,” he says. “That was the best wave I’ve ever surfed.”

The guy grins at him. “You got the sleeper set, kid. That was a fucking perfect 10 wave.”

Jon opens his mouth to reply, but the guys are jumping on him and tugging him back towards everyone else. He looks back for one second at the water, tightening his hands on his board and blinking salt out of his eyes.


Jon’s camera is an old beat-up Pentax P30T his grandfather brought with him on one of his holiday trips out to O’ahu and left behind when Jon showed an interest in photography. He’s had it for five years now, stubbornly sticking to 35mm film while all his friends went digital. It’s been everywhere with him for the last couple of years: Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Japan, California, the UK and Ireland. The couple of months when he wasn’t on the circuit are memorized in shot after shot of Europe, until the film he carried in his backpack outweighed everything else and he started ditching his clothes to make room.

There’s only three things Jon needs at any given time to be happy when he’s on tour: his iPod, which has worn a permanent groove in the pocket of his jeans; his acoustic Ibanez, scuffed up and a little hollow-sounding, but still sweet enough; and his Pentax. Take any of those things away, Jon has learned, and he’s not especially pleasant to be around until he gets them back. He doesn’t check his guitar on planes any more, even though it costs more to get it stowed at the door. There was one time it got misplaced on a trip from Oregon to Florida, and Jon was in a mood for the two days it took to get it back. It unnerved everyone around him, so used to Jon’s general easygoing nature, that people tend to double-check with Jon that he’s still in possession of all his things.

Right now, Jon’s in Australia. It’s summer, and his mother’s been pestering him about coming home for Thanksgiving. He’s not sure if he’s going to try for it, though; the people on the tour have a week off, American or no, for the holiday, but he’s kind of into Brisbane right now, for all its dingy glory. He’s not sure he wants to spend four days in a flying metal tube, just to go home and have to come back all over again.

He’s looking through the viewfinder at a bird, still and silent on a park bench. Jon’s been watching this particular bird for about half an hour, impressed with how it hasn’t moved at all. Jon hasn’t really moved either, shifting only a little to keep his knees from screaming at him. He’s not sure what he’s waiting for–he doesn’t know if he’s trying to capture the moment when the bird finally takes flight, or some second of this unnatural stillness.

Jon adjusts the lens slightly, taking in a wider angle, and his finger hovers over the shutter. The bird twitches, and Jon thinks it’s getting ready to move, so he tightens his fingers on the camera and is close to pressing the button–

“Jonny!” calls a cheerful voice, disturbing the bird and jarring Jon so that the camera click-whirs just as the lens points downward.

Jon looks down at the camera and then up at Zee, who’s grinning like he didn’t just mess up a shot Jon wasted half an hour of his life on.

“Jonny Walker, you ran away,” Zee accuses in a friendly way.

“Thanks for messing up my shot,” Jon replies drily.

“Any time, bro. Listen, come on, we’re starting up dinner and we need someone to serenade us while we eat.” Zee tugs on his arm, and Jon knows his concentration is shot and he won’t be able to get any more photos in today, so he grabs his bag and lets himself be pulled back in the direction of their little encampment.


Life on the ASP is never anything less than interesting. Jon’s been doing it for three years now, and it feels like a lifetime. He’s got more stories than he’d ever know what to do with, and his bank account is doing pretty nicely as well, which is a testament to what he’s been able to accomplish out here. He’s not the best, but he never really wanted to be. Sometimes he has breakthrough waves where everything seems to come together as if it was made expressly for him, as if he was made for the wave he was riding; but most of the time he places farther down. He doesn’t especially mind.

Jon has a couple of fans that are really great, and there’s some people that show up for him at every competition and showcase. He’s made friends, and he has a reputation for being easy to talk to and more than happy to chat about things with the people who come to see him surf. His sponsors like to market him that way, and if it means he doesn’t have to do clothing ads and can stay relatively under the radar, he’s more than happy to let his rep speak for him.

His brother Mike became Jon’s manager as soon as he graduated, and does such a good job of it that all Jon really has to do is show up and surf, or show up and talk to people. It’s a pretty good life, even if he’s on the road ten months out of twelve. There’s nowhere he’d rather be, really.

Apart from the time he spends out in the water, getting a feel for the waves and the breaks and the winds, Jon’s got a pretty open schedule. There’s industry parties on all the time, but he only has to show up for about a quarter of them to make the sponsors happy; the rest of the time is his own.

When he won the men’s open at NSSA at 16, he would have been happy to take the prize money and put it towards a career that half the big-name tours and sponsorships were eager and ready to offer him on the spot. His mom looked like she was going to have an aneurysm, though, if he’d tried to talk about leaving school right then; so he told everyone he’d discuss his brand new career tomorrow, after the girls’ challenges finished.

And then Anne Marie went down, and everything went in kind of a blur.

Jon mostly remembers Eden’s face, standing over Anne Marie’s body like it had been her that hit the reef. Eden somehow talked her way into the ambulance, even as Penny and Anne Marie’s mother made arrangements to follow them to the hospital.

Eden clutched Anne Marie’s hand in hers, tight enough that a flush started to bloom even through Anne Marie’s tan, and looked for all the world like she wanted to cry but couldn’t. No, not cry; she wanted to weep. Jon had never seen anything like weeping before, but he saw it on Eden’s face that day.

He just held on to Lena’s hand, staying far enough back so they were out of the medics’ way, but close enough to watch the slow rise and fall of Anne Marie’s chest. They went to the hospital, spent hours in the uncomfortable, stifling waiting room to wait for news.

When Anne Marie woke up, Penny ran into the room, Eden hot on her heels, and Jon watched their mother, wan and a little fragile, shaking from something like relief. No one was surprised when she left for the mainland six months later, following some jerk that swept her off her feet on his vacation, once Anne Marie had recovered.

Jon waited for a month, until his palms were itching for something to happen, and finally his mom took him for a walk one night when the breeze was cool and the birds were louder than the passing cars.

“If you do this,” she said, “you’re finishing school. No dropping out to join some tour, no skipping out on graduating. They can wait a year until you’re done.”

Jon’s heart sank, but he nodded.

“And your dad is going to go out with you, at least until you’re eighteen. That’s non-negotiable,” she said, looking Jon in the eye.

He nodded again, figuring it was best to let her finish talking before he said anything back. His negotiating skills had always sucked with her anyway.

“I don’t like this,” his mom said, frustration evident in her voice. “I don’t like this choice, I don’t like this option. I don’t like that this is what you want to do, when there’s so many other things you could be if you just gave them a try. I hate that this is what makes you happy, Jonathan, but if this is what you want, I will learn to be okay with it,” she said, her voice breaking a little, and Jon pulled her close, let her feel that he was whole and fine, even if Anne Marie was walking with a limp and wasn’t coming back to school that year.

“Thanks, mom,” he said, muffled into her shoulder, and she just held him tighter.

That was four years ago, and Jon had busted his ass to finish school early, putting his effort into it in a way he never had before. The principal had been reluctant to let him graduate a semester early, since he “showed so much potential,” but in the end, Jon and his dad were able to join the tour in February on the Gold Coast. He couldn’t compete, not until September, but his sponsors said it was good exposure, and Jon could enter the amateur teen competitions that were usually alongside the pro tour.

By the time Jon turned 18 he was well into the swing of touring. Even his dad got comfortable with it, managing for Jon until Mike took over. With the first big prize Jon won, at twenty, sweeping everyone else out of the competition with one perfect wave, he paid off his parents’ mortgage and made his mother cry again, but this time it was with pride.

Now Jon’s 21, and sometimes he feels like his knees are splintering out of his skin, but most of the time he’s okay. He spends half his life on the water and the other half photographing it, with brief ellipses of music in between.

Zee’s talking about veggie sausages and beer, and Jon’s stomach rumbles appreciatively. Mike and Jon are staked out with Anne Marie and Eden, who are on for this leg of the tour as part of Eden’s intense management campaign. Mike raises a beer to them as they enter, and Jon grabs two from the cooler for him and Zee. “Who’s on food tonight?” he asks, and Zee makes a face which probably means Zee told him but Jon wasn’t listening.

“Jaqueline and Tai,” Eden says, the tone of her voice conveying just how amusing she finds that idea. Those two have been dancing around each other for weeks, and everyone’s waiting for new gossip to break. It can be kind of a closed society, on tour.

Jon just laughs and sits beside Anne Marie, who’s got her eyes closed and is leaning back against Eden’s legs. Jon envies them, sometimes. He hasn’t know them as long as they’ve known each other, but it’s been almost ten years since Anne Marie showed him what it’s like to be on the top of the world. Until they’d come to their senses, he watched them dance around each other, hurt each other, go back to each other time and time again, but they’ve always been made for each other. It just took a little effort for them to get over themselves and be happy.

They’re his friends, his best friends, but it’s not the same when they’re wrapped up in each other. Sometimes he wishes he’d had someone like that, someone who was just his.

In high school, Jon and Lena had a thing, really casual and never a big deal; they went to the parties together and figured stuff out with each other, but it wasn’t something that made either of them talk about love. Jon figured he didn’t really know what it was yet, and that was okay. There were a couple of people on tour, Marcos and Amy and Sophia, but those were just tour things. They were never meant to stick.

Most of the time, Jon doesn’t worry about it; he’s pretty happy with what he has. It’s just hard to look at Anne Marie and Eden and inevitably find yourself lacking.

Jon shakes the thoughts from his head when Tai shouts it’s going to be another half an hour before the food is ready, and he kicks Zee in the shin for disturbing his photography. Zee doesn’t notice, preoccupied with grabbing something that makes him bend over and reveals the tanned, lean line of his back. Jon tilts his head consideringly and thinks about maybe forgiving Zee after all.

When Zee rights himself, Jon’s guitar is in his hands, and he thrusts it at Jon. “Time for some troubadouring, Jonny Walker,” Zee laughs. “You gotta earn your supper.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jon grumbles, though he doesn’t really mind. All the downtime means he’s become pretty decent at playing, better than the half-assed strumming he used to do around the bonfires down at the beach back home. He picks out some notes, not playing anything in particular but feeling out a melody. “Do you want something in particular, O Disturber of My Peace?” Jon asks. “Or should I play the new song?”

“New song,” Anne Marie murmurs, one hand curled around Eden’s knee.

Jon tunes quickly, fingers playing along the strings until it sounds like what he wants. “Okay, I still haven’t figured out a title, so we’re going to call this one ‘Starbucks Run Blues.'”


Jon tells everyone he doesn’t remember the wipeout, but he does.

He remembers the feeling of his feet sliding against his board, instead of planting firmly; he remembers how his balance shifted in a split-second and the horror that flashed over him as he flipped backwards into the swell. He remembers being jerked under as his board went one way and he another, the lead between them taut and uncompromising.

He remembers the sensation of water filling his lungs even as he fought to surface.

He doesn’t quite remember the moment when the rescue team pulled him from the water, or the time that passed until he was strapped to a backboard and then onto a gurney. But he remembers the sun being too bright in his eyes, trying to blink away the salt and the light, followed quickly by the awareness that something was very, very wrong with his left leg just as the paramedics drugged him and consciousness slipped away.

Jon remembers all of that and he hasn’t been able to tell anyone, no one at all, that he knows exactly what everyone sees when they look at him because it replays in his mind every minute of every day.

It’s been three months and Jon’s life has narrowed down to: wake up, therapy, stare at the ceiling; wake up, listen to his family creep past his door, stare at the ceiling; wake up, therapy, stare at the ceiling. Rinse and repeat to infinity.

The pin that’s holding his fractured hip together still feels strange and wrong, even though the skin around it is starting to heal. The long strip of torn flesh down his leg, from scraping against the ocean floor, is mottled and ugly, but the doctors say it looks fine. He can walk on his own, small agonizing steps, and he does it twice a day to get out of the house and away from the concern.

The woman who does his PT is named Claudia, and Jon tries really, really hard not to take out his anger and frustration on her, because every surfer he knew recommended her to him, and he saw other patients falling apart trying to squeeze a rubber ball with a deadened hand or shuffle down a hallway, both arms out for balance, and Jon does not want to be that person.

Those first days after his surgery, taking the walker into his hands and feeling his body just fail him, in a way it never has before, was the most humiliating thing he’s ever experienced. Jon has never been in love, but now he’s had his heart broken, and he even as his body heals he doesn’t think his heart will.

He can’t say these things to his mother, who looks at him like all her worst nightmares have come true; or Mike, who’s caught between wanting to stay at the house while Jon recovers and needing to find a new job; or his dad, who brings him magazines and albums and books, piling up all over the room that Jon can only flip through half-heartedly before setting them away. Sometimes Jon will talk to Bill, if only because Bill is in Seattle and he doesn’t have to see the pity or fear in his eyes as Bill tells him about his life there.

The cats are the only people in their house who ignore his feelings completely, butting into him and curling up against him whether he likes it or not. It’s easier to hold them close and run fingers through their fur than it is to push the cats away. He spends a lot of time on the porch, feet stretched out in front of him, watching the waves roll in. It’s a different kind of pain, doing that. Something to distract him from the one in his body.

People come by, but so many of his friends are out on tour or at competition that, more often than not, they’re on the other side of the world while he’s stuck here. He doesn’t check his email, and he turned off his cell phone weeks ago. His mom takes down messages from the people who call, but they’re sitting next to the stacks of books his father brought him, unread.

Jon knows that he’s angry, that he’s frustrated with the prosthetic lodged inside of him and the limp he’ll have for the rest of his life; he’s probably depressed by now, too, and he doesn’t need to go to a therapist to have that parroted back at him. But he doesn’t know what else he should be feeling. The one thing that was his, the thing he was made to do, was taken away in a split second and he can never get it back.

He’s twenty-three and everything he knew about his life is over. He’s fucking mourning that, and he doesn’t know when he’s going to stop grieving.

So he wakes up, and he goes to therapy, and he tries to grind out something normal to his family, and he goes for a walk, and he watches the waves he will never ride again, and stares at the ceiling. And then he does it all again.

His dad makes breakfast every morning, and most days Jon waits until everyone has finished to shuffle out with his cane so he can eat without eyes on him, or eyes glancing off him, like he’s something getting ready to go off at any given moment. This morning, though, when he goes out, his dad is still there, reading the paper. Jon’s eyes dart between the table and his bedroom, because he really can’t deal with anyone trying to be kind or nice to him today, but the smell of bacon wins out because Jon may be depressed, but he’s still human.

Jon sits down carefully, the way he’s learned to now, and fills his plate while his dad occasionally rustles the paper. He pays out the nose for a subscription to the Chicago Sun-Times, a running joke in the house, but it makes him happy. The table is thankfully silent, and Jon swallows his pills down with coffee, trying to keep his foot from twitching where one of the cats has decided to take up residence.

He eats quickly, because he has PT in an hour and he wants to go sit outside for a little bit before he has to deal with Claudia’s uncompromising attitude, but just as he’s starting to struggle upwards again, his dad puts down the paper and looks at him. Jon thinks he probably walked right into this one.

“Jon,” his dad says carefully, and something inside Jon cringes. His dad watches his reaction and something hardens on his face. “Jon, you can’t keep living like this. It’s not good for you. You have to do something with your life other than just sit in your room.”

“I don’t want to talk about this,” Jon says abruptly, using all of the strength he has in his upper arms to push away from the table, grabbing for his cane where it hangs off the side. His dad places a firm hand on his wrist to keep him from going.

“Listen to me,” his dad says urgently. “Please. Just listen this once, and then I’ll let you go, okay?”

Jon struggles, just a little, but he slowly sits back down, looking away to stare at the UC Santa Barbara pennant on the side of the refrigerator. It feels like being fifteen, but being fifteen in a way Jon never was. He listens.

“Jon,” and there’s something about his voice, something that makes Jon’s chest twinge deep inside for making his dad feel this way, “Jon, we’re so worried about you. It’s not even because of your injury. I thought that’s what it was at first, but even with getting hurt it was something worse. You haven’t picked up your camera in months, you barely speak to us when we’re in the same room–that’s when we -are- in the same room–you don’t engage with anything, not the television, not books. Not your friends, who are getting ready to beat the door down to get at you.

“All you do, Jon, is sit outside and stare, and I know what you’re staring at. It’s written all over your face, even though you try to hide it. But you don’t have to hide it from me, kiddo. I can take anything you have to give and come back for more, because you’re my son and if I could I’d go back in time and keep you from surfing that day. But I can’t. All I can do is try and help you now, and Jon, you’re killing yourself a little every time you go and watch those waves, and it’s killing us to watch you do it.”

His dad’s hand grabs his, and Jon can’t help it, he holds back just as tight even though he still can’t bring himself to look at his father.

“Jon,” his dad says again, this time so gently that Jon’s head turns without meaning to and he’s looking back into brown eyes that match his own. “Jonny, I think maybe you need to get out of Hawai’i for awhile. Get away from the ocean, get away from this, this constant reminder of everything.”

Jon’s crying and he didn’t want to do this. He was trying to be okay, trying to be okay for them even though he wasn’t. All these emotions are cutting him up inside and he keeps the wipeout and the hospital and the therapy and the alien feeling in his side on constant loop in his head, and it’s just too much. It’s too much, and someone seeing that it’s too much just breaks it all. He pushes the heel of his other hand into his eyes, trying to block it out, but it’s like a switch has been triggered and he can’t block it anymore.

“Your mom thought maybe you could go stay with her dad for awhile, back in Chicago,” his dad continues, still holding his hand. “Grandpa Jerry said he’d be happy to have you around, and you could just have some time to yourself, if you wanted, or I could come back with you. Mike’s been offered a job with the tour promoters, so he’s going back out in a couple weeks, but we could go get you settled there. The doctors said they’d refer you to a good clinic, and you can pick up your PT there.”

Jon nods. He doesn’t even have to think about it. He still can’t bring himself to say anything, afraid that if he starts he won’t stop, but he’ll do this if it’ll make them happy. If it will keep them from feeling like he’s broken beyond their ability to fix. Jon can go to Chicago. It can’t be any worse than being here.


Chicago isn’t a place Jon remembers very well. He was only a kid when they left, after all, and they never really made it back for holidays or family events. Too many of the assorted relatives and family friends saw the allure of coming out to visit the Walkers on the Big Island, and as a result their house was always a constant stream of guests and family. And Jon’s job–his former job–never really swung into the Midwest that often.

The flight sucks more than Jon could have anticipated. He’s spent more hours than he could ever properly log in the air, flying from one part of the world to another on tour or for competition. He’s been so many places, tiny little islands where the surfing was really too dangerous and off the registered lists; the big, bright swathe of the Queensland’s Gold Coast; the impossibly clear water off the Indian subcontinent. His passport’s been filled twice over. But the trip from Honolulu to San Francisco was agony, even in first class with room to stretch out. Jon had taken the pain pills he detests just to get through.

He used the layover to walk the terminal back and forth until the stiffness and throbbing had receded. His dad watched him with concealed worry, ordering a couple coffees to pass the time. Jon just looked at the floor, turning his iPod up more so he could bite through the pain to The Rolling Stones.

He was better prepared for the San Francisco-Chicago leg, but as he waited for the other passengers to depart the plane so he would have room to manoeuvre, his mouth was turned down in a bitter line. He definitely wasn’t going to leave Chicago anytime soon if it meant he had to get back on another goddamned plane.

Jon’s grandfather was waiting for them when they drove up to his house in Highland Park. Their family had lived in Hanover, but his mom’s had been in Highland since long before Jon or his brothers were born, and Jon remembers going over to the house after school to play in the park nearby. It’s comforting, and he takes the first opportunity he’s given to sit down on the sunken leather couch. He bends his knee carefully and settles against the arm rest.

“Jonny boy, I’m pleased to have you around,” Grandpa Jerry says with a smile. It’s hard not to smile in response, so Jon lets himself, feeling something loosen in his chest. “You know I saw Mrs. Scimeca down at the Jewel and told her you were coming to stay with me for awhile, and she said her Nicky would be thrilled to know you were back in town! Do you remember little Nicky Scimeca? He’s doing something, I don’t know what, down in the city these days. Still comes and brings his mother pie on Sundays, though.”

“Yeah, I remember Nicky,” Jon says, because he kind of does. They went to school together and sometimes Jon still gets emails from him. Jon hasn’t seen him in years, though. He’s pretty sure he doesn’t remember what Nicky looks like, even though “plaid” comes to mind for some reason.

“And you, Mike, how long are you staying?” Grandpa Jerry asks as Jon’s dad comes into the room after bringing in their bags.

“Just for the week, I think, though we kept the ticket open-ended,” his dad says. “I wanted to get Jon settled in and set up with the doctors out here before I headed back. Cathy couldn’t get away from work, but she sends her love.”

“That girl always did work too hard,” Grandpa Jerry says fondly. “Now, Jonny, are you still using that P30T, or have you graduated to something more fancy these days?”

Jon tries not to scowl. He hasn’t taken a picture in months, since his injury. Or rather, he hasn’t taken a picture he’s liked in all this time. He took a roll when he was first able to go on walks by himself, but when the photographs came back they said nothing at all. The angles were wrong and the framing was off and the focus was shoddy. It took a lot of effort on Jon’s part not to throw the camera across the room; instead, he packed it away into a drawer and tried to pretend it didn’t exist.

He’s fairly certain someone snuck it into his bags anyway.

“I haven’t really been doing much photography lately, Granddad,” Jon says, fiddling with the hand of his cane. They wanted him on crutches, but he vetoed them as soon as he could get around with a walking stick instead. Eden custom-ordered it for him, a light blue with waves lapping up the base. He couldn’t say no, even though he wanted to.

“Well, that’s bullshit,” Grandpa Jerry says bluntly. “You and me are going on evening walks, and we’re gonna see if we can get you to see right again. You’re too damn good to let your talent go to waste. Your hips don’t affect your eyes, kid.”

Jon blinks. “Uh–”

“I’m seventy-two damn years old, and I haven’t stopped taking pictures once. You don’t have an excuse, Jonny.” His grandfather always did have that strange piercing gaze, the blue eyes his brother Bill got, and no one else did.

“Okay,” he says, because there doesn’t seem to be any other response. His dad looks like he’s trying not to laugh.

“Mike!” Grandpa Jerry shouts, even though his dad is right there. “We’re going to have pizza for dinner. I hear that’s what kids like to eat.”

“Sounds good. Giordano’s?” his dad asks.

“Would you even think of anywhere else?” his grandfather asks, faking shock.

“I’m twenty-three,” Jon feels compelled to point out.

“The young ones get the beer,” Grandpa Jerry says with a slightly knowing satisfaction. “If you start now you can probably get to the corner store and back by the time the pizza arrives. I like Blue Moon.” Jerry just sits back and looks at Jon like Jon wasn’t on an OR table nearly four months ago.

“O-kay,” Jon says slowly, pushing himself up from the couch and grunting from the effort. “I guess I’ll be back?”

“You’re damn right you will,” Jerry says with a careful little smile on his face. His dad hands him ten bucks as he heads out the door, looking like he’s caught between trying not to laugh and trying to conceal his pride.

“I’m getting some Newcastle, too,” Jon says.

“You do that,” replies his grandfather.


This is how Jon’s life in Chicago is different: first, Jon’s new physical therapist is named Lars, and even though he’s as imposing as the name would suggest, he’s also hilariously, flamboyantly gay and grills Jon on all the guys he’s slept with in his lifetime. He makes Jon laugh, and it hurts when he does it because he hasn’t for so long.

Second, his grandfather does make him go for walks in the evening around the neighborhood, and after the first week Jerry won’t let him out of the house unless his camera is around his neck. “Even if you don’t take a picture, you should have it onhand in case you -want- to,” Jerry says intractably, and it’s easier to go along with what Jerry wants than it is to argue. Jon finds that there are things he does want to photograph, and if the pictures aren’t exactly what he sees with his eyes, at least he’s trying.

Third, Nick Scimeca comes back into his life like there’s not a decade or more between them. Jon is thinking about going downtown to check out Reckless Records, because his PT isn’t until the afternoon and if he goes now, he can hit the clinic on the way back. He’s re-learned how to drive with his hip cocked out a different way, and bought himself a second-hand hybrid that Jerry cackled at for being so small. Small, anyway, compared to Jerry’s 1981 Buick.

He’s just about to leave the house when the phone rings, and Jerry is out visiting one of his (many) lady friends, so Jon answers the phone. “Hello?”

“Is that Jonny Walker?” comes the voice on the other end. “Surely that cannot be the Jonathan Jacob Walker, he who won first place in Greenbrook Elementary’s annual egg-run competition? No one so famous would answer his own phone!”

Jon smiles, just a little. He’s been doing that more lately. “Nicky Scimeca?”

“He remembers my name!” Nick crows. “I feel so special. Jonny Walker, you have been in town for three weeks and you haven’t given me a call yet. I’m your oldest friend, you asshole!”

“It’s not like I had your number,” Jon points out. “And how did you know I was back? Are you spying on me, Nicky? Who knew you loved me that much.”

“Better than a spy, my friend, better than a spy. I heard it from my mother, who says that you look like you need a few pot roasts in you and that your cane is very snazzy,” Nick says.

Jon’s hand tightens briefly where it rests on the cane, but he lets it go. “I’m a vegetarian, pal. Make that a tofurkey and I’ll be there.”

Nick’s indrawn gasp of horror makes Jon laugh right out loud, and before he knows it he’s made plans to meet Nick down at some bar in Wrigley that night for a beer. “And don’t be late, or I’ll send my mother after you,” Nick says.

“She’ll just try to feed me. Maybe I won’t show up after all,” Jon says. When they hang up, Jon goes out to his car and for the first time he doesn’t notice the stairs as he goes down.

Jon shows up early for his meeting with Nick, because he wants to give himself enough time to get a drink and sit down without holding Nick up or having a discussion about why he’s in Chicago and not in the southern hemisphere right now. The bar isn’t too crowded; it’s a Wednesday, and late enough that most of the after-five crowd have already departed homeward. Jon walks carefully up to the bar and orders, carefully gripping his glass in one hand as he makes his way over the to free booth he’s spotted in the corner. In the months since he started PT, Jon’s gotten better at maneuvering around corners, but it’s harder when he doesn’t have the other hand free to balance. He makes it just fine, though, setting down his glass before settling himself into the squeaky vinyl seat.

He’s taking in the posters pasted in a thick wallpaper on the back wall when Nick shows up, thwapping Jon on the shoulder with a grin as he sits down opposite him. “Jonathan,” Nick drawls over a grin that meets his eyes. It’s impossible not to smile back, so Jon doesn’t try not to. Nick looks good–not far removed from the lean kid he was at twelve, though he seems to favor as many layers as he can fit on his frame. And the flannel shirt covering the t-shirt and hoodie beneath explains the plaid thing. He’s got a beanie pulled haphazardly over his hair and his fingers have a couple of choice band-aids wrapped around them, Spider-Man and My Little Pony.

“Nick,” Jon says, shaking Nick’s hand, “It’s good to see you, dude.”

“You know, it’s amazing how eleven years of constant sunshine totally changes the way you say the word ‘dude,’ dude,” Nick says, gripping Jon’s hand with a little strength and a lot of affection.

“It’s all the salt water. It gets into your brain eventually,” Jon says as deadpan as he can muster.

“I believe it, man, I believe it. So how are you making it back in the land of the feared and fabled Chicago winter? You bought your down coat yet?”

“The last time I checked it was August,” Jon points out.

“Exactly,” Nick says with a knowing look. “Man, Jonny Walker. I can’t believe you’re sitting across from me, dude, I have distinct and fond memories of biking down to the ice cream stand and falling, repeatedly, off the ramp down at the park.”

Jon remembers that too, how they’d come home scraped and bruised but so pleased with themselves for their ability to spin. It had taken them a couple months to master it, but it was so worth it. Jon wondered abruptly what had happened to that bike.

“We had some good times,” he says, taking a sip of beer.

“Yeah, we did,” Nick says. “Tommy’s gonna flip out when he hears you’re back in town.”

“Tommy Conrad?” Jon says with surprise. “Wow, I haven’t heard from him in forever. How’s he doing?”

“You know, he’s okay,” Nick said, waving down the bartender (whom he evidently knows) for a beer. “He’s got another band going, Empires, that’s doing pretty well. He seems happy, but you never quite know with Tom.”

“Yeah?” Jon says. He doesn’t know this about Tom, and that makes him a little sad. He grew up with these guys, practically from birth until he left for Hawai’i, and he can count all the things he knows about their lives now on one hand.

“Yeah, he’s bummed around on a couple other bands on the scene, but I think he’s found one he wants to stick with this time. Poor kid, he’s had his heart broken a little, but I gotta say I admire him for sticking with it.”

“What kind of music does he play?” Jon asks.

“It’s kind of like…Snow Patrol meets early New Order,” Nick replies, considering the question. “I don’t know, there’s more of a dreamy quality to it than the rock stuff or the hardcore stuff he’s done before. Man, I was listening to our old 504plan record the other day, and it’s kind of awesome to see how far we’ve all come, you know?”

“You guys were in a band?” Jon says, feeling like he’s three steps behind the conversation.

“Oh, dude, yeah–this whole scene started up while we were in high school, battle of the bands and underage shows and shit. It was awesome. Tommy and me and this dude Adam–do you remember Mikey Russell? From across the street? Yeah, we roped him in, and his little sister Cory learned the bass,” Nick says, taking a long pull from his beer. “We did that for, like, five years, man. It was a pretty great time to be alive. We put out an LP and an EP, but then Adam was finishing up school, and I was starting up my business, and everyone was a little restless. So we decided to end it on a high note, you know?”

“Wow,” Jon says.

“Man, we even did Warped twice, with our little Chicago band,” Nick says with evident pride.

“That’s awesome,” Jon says; he’s probably supposed to know what Warped is, but nothing’s coming up.

“So, yeah, Tommy went on to tour for a couple years with this other band, The Academy Is…, oh hey, I bet you remember Mike Carden? He’s the guy from Keeneyville Elementary who ate paste for ten bucks? Yeah, he started this band with another dude, Beckett, and they’re doing really well. But Tommy, you know, he has that temper sometimes, and they kicked him out, so he did photography around here in Chicago for awhile. He has a pretty decent gallery open out on Superior that’s been doing well, and when he wanted to get back into music again Empires started up, and they’ve got a good buzz in the area,” Nick finishes, barely needing to catch a breath. Jon seriously has no idea how Nick gets so many words out in one big rush and still somehow manages to be intelligible.

“You said you started a business?” Jon prompts. This is the first time he’s had a conversation in six months with someone who didn’t first ask how he was healing and whether he’d be able to get out on the water. He’s thrilled to let someone else talk for awhile.

“Oh, yeah, dude, I got really interesting in designing things, like websites and stuff, and I made a little money off the backs of our friends. Thank god for Fall Out Boy, seriously, I made enough for a down payment on an apartment two, three years out of high school. The taxes are a bitch, though,” Nick says introspectively.

“Fall Out Boy?” Jon asks. He should definitely know this. This should be something he knows.

Nick’s eyes widen. “Okay, seriously, Jon, have you been living under a seashell for the last four years? Please tell me you know who Fall Out Boy are. Please.”

“Okay, -seriously,- my musical taste tends to run squarely with anything made before 1978,” Jon grins, raising his hands in defence. “And I’m not really into pop music, so–”

Nick bursts out laughing and whips out his phone, which looks like it could kill a small child if thrown the right way. “Oh my god, I seriously have to tell that to Pete right now, that’s hilarious,” he says, thumb-typing so fast Jon thinks Nick’s fingers are blurring.

“What?” Jon asks. “What did I say?”

“I’m going to tell him you called him Britney Spears,” Nick says with a distinct cackle.

“Who’s Pete?” Jon says, rapidly losing the thread of the conversation. “And can you order me another beer please?”

Nick throws out a hand towards the bar, and that somehow seems to convey “more please” because a server with a sympathetic smile brings another round. “Pete is Pete Wentz, the bassist of Fall Out Boy,” Nick says, not quite looking up from the screen of his phone. “Fall Out Boy is a pretty famous band. They’re from Chicago, and Pete Wentz is a punk who refuses to dress up in a schoolgirl outfit, which is bullshit because I have seen his naked ass more times that I care to commit to memory and he fucking owes me one.”

“I feel like he’s right here with us,” Jon says dryly, drinking his beer.

“Everyone feels that eventually,” Nick says seriously. “Pete Wentz is an omnipresent motherfucker.” Nick shoves his phone back into his pocket and looks at Jon. “But you know what? I’ve been talking straight for half an hour. What’s up with you, Jon? What brings you back to our fair city?”

Jon shrugs and looks away. He thinks about blowing the question off; it’s hard enough to be honest with his family, and he can’t imagine answering it for real to a guy he hasn’t seen in eleven years. But there’s something about Nick, the way he picks up their friendship like it wasn’t left in a neighborhood park back in 1997, the way he actually seems interested in Jon’s life, and not because of Jon’s injury, that makes him consider saying the truth.

“Well,” Jon says, and he feels the words swim around in the back of his throat, but pushes them out anyway, “I fucked up my hip in a wipeout, and lost my gig surfing professionally, so when I was getting ready to throw myself out in the water and be done with it, I came here instead. I guess I’m just trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, now, ’cause everything I had going for me has pretty much disappeared.”

Jon knows the words are pretty bitter, but he’s surprised to find that the rush of anger and pain that usually accompanies them just…isn’t there. Or isn’t there as bad, anyway. Nick doesn’t flinch, though, doesn’t say anything heartfelt or compassionate, and they let the words hang in the air for a long moment.

“That fucking sucks, Walker,” Nick says finally.

Jon laughs; he can’t help it, because it -does- suck, it sucks a lot, but he thinks he’s starting to get okay with how much it sucks.

“Yeah,” he says. “But at least I’ve still got my pretty face.”

Nick grins at him, quick and sly. “That you do, Jonny Walker. That you do.”

They sit and talk through the last half of their lives, trading stories and catching up and relearning who they are at twenty-three and how that’s different from twelve, until Nick gets another in a near-constant stream of text messages and snorts. “Hey, you brought your car, right?”

Jon nods. He spaced out his drinking, because mixing with his meds is a bad idea anyway, and he still had to head back northside.

“Awesome. Let’s go hit up Old Town, Tom’s there and he’s yelling at me for not telling him I was meeting you here,” Nick says, getting out of the booth and holding out a distracted hand to help Jon. Jon hesitates, but he takes it, and thinks that Chicago was probably a good idea after all.


Jon’s first show at the Forevernever gallery opens on a Wednesday, and despite it being the middle of the week, the place is packed. He doesn’t know half the people there, and he’s dressed up a little in a blue button-down and a nice pair of trousers he’d had to buy downtown for the event, but he’s having a pretty good time watching other people look at his pictures on the wall.

Already Tom has come up to punch him in the shoulder a few times, which is Tom’s way of saying that his prints have sold, and Jon thinks his face is going to crack in half from grinning. Drift and Surfer want to talk to him about using some of his photographs, and so many people have come up and introduced themselves, telling them how much they like his work.

It’s a good night. One of the best he’s had in a long time.

A lot of the prints on the wall are blown up from the negatives he’d saved. After eight years, he’d saved a lot, and his mom was more than happy to ship them to him here, even though it cost a small fortune. He and Tom spent hours going through contact sheets, 3x5s, and 4x6s, picking out the ones they’d liked, the ones that said something meaningful, or at least interesting. Jon feels like he’s half-lived at Forevernever in the last four weeks, subsisting on take-out and beer runs at the corner store. His grandfather started dropping hints about how his ladyfriend was making dinner, he should really come home, and perhaps think about taking a shower; but the next night he was right back in Old Town, shooting the shit with Nick and his buddies, or helping Tom hang something, or watching bands from the local scene play around the city.

Half the show is Jon’s older prints, the photographs he took on tour from all over the world; and the other half is from the last couple months around Chicago. Jon doesn’t think he has an eye for symbolism, really, he just shoots what comes to him (and to be honest, he’s more than a little concerned about what Metromix and Time Out and the local papers are going to say about him), but he can see a stylistic difference in the shots before his hip and after. It’s not just the subject matter–though what he’s photographing is definitely tied to the locale–but the way he’s taking pictures now. Before, he used to hang the camera off his thumb by the shutter mechanism, and shoot frame after frame without pause; but now he has to use his left hand inside of his right, and if he wants a specific picture he has to take his time and line up the shot.

It means that something has changed about the tone of his photography. Before his hip, there was a loose, almost careless quality to the pictures he took. Half the time he wasn’t worried about what came out, because out of thirty-six negatives he’d usually get a couple of shots he liked. But now, he thinks he sees more patience, more care in his photographs. He’s thinking about what he’s photographing now, and Jon is fascinated by the change.

It was Cassie’s idea to have the show in the first place. She and Tom co-own Forevernever, friends from high school and well into adulthood. Tom usually finds the artists, and Cassie does the administration. She’s amazing–smart, funny, opinionated, and with terrible taste in pizza toppings. Jon wonders sometimes what it would have been like if he had stayed in Chicago, if he would have asked her out by her locker after class instead of making out with Lena in the surfboard shed at the beach. He hasn’t be able to get himself to ask her out yet. Tom thinks his crush is hilarious.

She’s floating her way through the room, and every time Jon looks up from another person talking to him about his show, she’s in his line of vision. Jon is shaking the hand of someone who just bought the print of Zee trailing a broken board lead in his fingers, and he thinks he might just be able to get up the nerve to ask her to have dinner with him when he hears his name shouted across the room.

“Jon Walker,” comes Eden’s familiar mouthiness, “you are a bitch and a shitty friend.”

Jon blinks. “Eden?”

“Not just Eden,” says Anne Marie, tugging Lena into view. Kelo and Mike just grin at him.

“Holy shit,” Jon breathes. “What are you doing here?”

“What do you mean, what are we doing here?” Eden says, walking up to tug him into a fierce hug. “This is your gallery opening, you asshole, and we had to hear it from your brother instead of from you, which I am never forgiving you for.”

“Hi,” Anne Marie smiles, hugging him too. “We missed you, Jon, and you’re terrible at returning our messages, so we figured the best way to get to you was, well, to come here.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, and he means it.

Anne Marie just tugs a frowning Eden closer to her and shrugs. “It’s okay, I’ve been there,” she says, and Jon had forgotten that. He shouldn’t have; it might have been easier if Anne Marie was around.

Lena hugs him and whispers something filthy in his ear that makes him turn a little red, but he kisses her on the cheek anyway. Kelo does something complicated with their hands, but it’s always easier to go along with whatever Kelo does than try and figure out what it is you’re doing, and Jon laughs and pulls him in for a hug. When Mike steps up, Jon looks up at him and says, straightaway, “I’m sorry, Mike.” It feels like it needed to be said between him, that Jon’s sorry for getting hurt, sorry for being miserable about it, sorry for costing Mike his job.

“C’mon, brother, it’s nothing,” Mike says, his eyes suspiciously wet, and they hug for a long time, Mike being careful not to hold him too tight until Jon clenches his fingers in Mike’s shirt. Maybe both their eyes are a little wet, but no one’s gonna call him on it.

“Hey, so,” Jon says, wiping the back of his free hand against his face. “Welcome to Chicago, I guess.”

“You’ve got a lot to make up for, Jon,” Kelo says seriously. Kelo does everything seriously, whether it’s smoking up or doing his taxes. “We need to have you a party, dude.”

“I completely concur,” Tom says, walking up to their little cluster in the middle of the gallery. “Hi. I’m Tom, friend of Jonny here, and I would assume you are assorted loved ones?”

“Yeah–” Jon starts, but Lena cuts in. “We are indeed,” she says, sidling up to Tom. “I like your eyes. My name is Lena.”

Eden groans and Tom’s smile grows impossibly wider. “It’s very nice to meet you, Lena. Welcome to my gallery. Can I show you some of Jon’s work?” His eyes cut to Jon, and they do the brief dance of “is this cool?” “yes it’s cool, don’t be a dick to her” between them before Tom says, “We can hold a party out at Patrick’s, he won’t mind. He’s got a huge backyard, anyway.”

“Barbecue,” Kelo and Mike say at the same time.

Jon can pretty much see the next few days of his life flash before him, so he just lets it happen. He’s feeling very zen right now. Jon didn’t realize just how much he missed these guys until they showed up right in front of him. “I’m glad you’re here,” he says.

“I’m glad you’re smiling,” Anne Marie says with a cautious smile of her own.

“Me too,” Jon replies.

The party is planned in record time, the day after the gallery opening, and Jon is charged with the beer run because, as Nick put it, he just made enough bank to keep them all in a keg or two. He and Mike go together, and their grandfather tags along, providing colourful commentary and grilling Mike on why he can’t keep a woman. Their parents, who Jon convinced to come after the gallery opening, will be there tomorrow, and between all of Jon’s Big Island friends, his family, and the new, surprising, amazing group of people he’s starting to form around himself here in Chicago, Jon’s feeling pretty incredible.

Patrick, the guy whose house they’re crashing, is pretty chill about the sixty or so people showing up for a barbeque with less than a day’s warning. He’s a short dude with a hat permanently glued to his head, and he and Jon start talking about Atlanta Motown and don’t stop until Nick pulls him away to stare at the grill. Jerry starts making noises about how kids these days don’t know how to do a damn thing, and jumps in to cook the burgers and Morningstar Farms products to perfection.

Jon’s hanging out with his feet in the pool, sunglasses on, and a beer in hand. The buoyancy takes some of the pressure off his hip, and Anne Marie and Lena and splashing at each other, shouting friendly insults and getting everyone around them wet. Jon catches Cassie’s eye and smiles, waving her over.

“Hi,” he says when she sits down next to him, plopping her legs into the pool.

“Hi, there, Jon,” Cassie grins back.

“So listen,” he says, taking her hand. “Hypothetically, if I was going to ask you out to dinner next week, what you say?”

“What would I hypothetically say?” she muses. “Hmm. I don’t know, Mr. Walker, I think you’re really going to have to run the experiment without a hypothesis behind it. For proper results, I mean.”

Jon tugs her close and whispers in her ear, “Wanna have dinner with me next week?”

He can feel her smile against his cheek, and she whispers back, “Yes.”

They grin stupidly at each other for awhile, until everyone’s called over for food and people start settling in with burgers and non-burger burgers. There’s a low, happy buzz over the backyard, and Chicago in the beginnings of fall is a beautiful sight to behold.

As the night starts to overtake the twilight, Patrick turns on his firepit, and the hoodies come out in force. Someone starts singing, and Patrick brings out some of his seriously impressive collection of instruments. Tom takes one guitar and Patrick takes the other, and Anne Marie looks at him from across the patio and says, “Hey, Jonny Walker, sing us a song.”

Jon laughs and says, “Oh, come on, Amerie! Let the professionals handle this one.”

Nick’s head shoots up so fast Jon’s surprised it doesn’t fly off. “JWalk! You didn’t tell me you can sing!”

“I can’t!” Jon protests. “I just noodle around a little, for those chuckleheads over there,” he says, nodding at Eden, Lena, and Anne Marie, who look like they’re plotting something nefarious. When it comes to him, it’s usually nefarious.

“Sing us a song, Jon,” Eden says, her voice smoothed out over a couple of beers. “I’m gonna start telling stories if you don’t.”

“Yeah, like that time with the thong–” Lena starts.

“Hand me that guitar,” Jon says immediately, holding out his hand. Tom is red in the face from holding in his laughter as he hands one over, a beautiful Gibson Nick Lucas Jon had admired on his way in.

Jon settles down, rotating himself so his hip is cocked up slightly on top of the blanket he’s sitting on. The guitar feels strange in his arms–this, too, is something he hasn’t done in a long time. He strums a few chords, shifting a little until he’s comfortable, and then looks up. “Whaddaya want to hear?” he asks.

“‘Two Ducks and the Sea’!” Anne Marie says first, grinning over the top of Eden’s head.

“No, no,” Kelo argues. “Save the love songs for later. How about ‘Surf Wax Breakdown’? I love that one.”

“Oh, but I haven’t heard ‘Two Ducks’ in forever!” Anne Marie protests, getting as close to a pout as she ever does.

“I’ll play ’em both!” Jon says, settling the argument. “I’ll play ‘Surf Wax’ and then I’ll play ‘Two Ducks,’ okay?”

“Okay!” Anne Marie and Kelo chorus.

Jon starts up “Surf Wax” and the chords come back to his hands like they never left. His voice is a little weak, a little rusty, but after the first chorus Patrick breaks into harmony with a grin in his direction, and by the third chorus everyone else is singing along. When he finishes with a flourish, it’s to hollers and applause. Jon just laughs.

“Okay, ‘Two Ducks and the Sea,'”, Jon says. “This is a love song about, um, two ducks. And the sea. Here it goes.”

Anne Marie is mouthing the words and when it gets to the part where the melody sings down a minor key, Patrick follows like he’s known the song all his life and Lena remembers the counter-melody, too. Mike starts tapping out a beat against his legs, and everyone picks up until they have a nice little round going on, singing about two ducks dreaming of the ocean and a life they’ll never lead.

Jon’s a little sweaty, but he’s grinning like a fool. “Okay, I’ve got a good one for you. You’re gonna love this,” he says. “This isn’t one of mine, but I think you’ll know it anyway.” Jon throws down a couple of hard chords, and he starts singing, “-Darling you got to let me know/Should I stay or should I go,-” and before he’s even finished the first line, Tom is playing right along with him and Patrick is laughing. When they get to the Spanish parts, Patrick starts singing, and when they get to the chorus, -everyone- starts singing, even Grandpa Jerry.

At the end of the song, he and Tom have a little battle, stringing out the song until the hoots and shouts overpower the music, and the song breaks down.

“That was awesome,” Nick says. “Dude, did you write those first couple of songs? I didn’t know you wrote songs!”

“He used to do it all the time, when we were kids,” Kelo pipes up. “After it got too dark to surf we’d hang out on the sand and he’s just sing all these song he came up with.”

“He did it on the road, too,” Eden says, her fingers tangled loosely with Anne Marie’s.

“How many songs do you have?” Tom asks curiously.

Jon fiddles with the tuning on the guitar. “Uh, I don’t know. About forty? Maybe?”

Patrick whistles lowly. “You have forty songs? Are all of them like the ones you just did?”

“Yes,” Mike answers just as Jon shrugs, “Not really.”

Jon shoots him a half-hearted glare and says, “I guess. I mean, I haven’t looked at them in awhile, but they’re really just little diddies.” He shrugs under Patrick’s thoughtful stare. “I just do it for fun, you know, because it makes people happy.”

Tom glances between Patrick and back to Jon and laughs, picking out a couple chords as he says, “Oh, Jon, I think you just made a friend for life over there.”

“Jon, have you ever used a Blue mic?” Patrick asks, sounding like he’s a million miles away. “Because, seriously, I have so many ideas about the sound for this, it would be amazing to do this to tape and go really lo-fi, really capture this quality of playing live–”

“Uh, I’ve never played on a mic before,” Jon says, gratefully taking the cold bottle Cassie presses into his hand. She bends down and whispers, “It’s really easier to just let him go until he runs himself out. Patrick’s got a lot of ideas.”

Jon sighs. The last time he made a friend like that, it was Kelo, and they ended up learning out to hotbox an old Volkswagen through eight days of trial and error. They skipped a lot of school that month. “A Blue mic, huh?” he says, playing harmony to Tom’s melody.

“We can start next week, after your parents leave,” Patrick says happily. “I don’t have to be on the road for another month, and Pete’s gonna be here, oh, he has to hear you play, he’s going to flip out, and I know the perfect vintage toms we can use…” His words die out as he wanders back into the house, Jon assumes to work on his ideas. He’d planned on converting Jerry’s unused basement bathroom into a dark room after the show opened, but Jon guesses that’s on hold now.

“This is going to be legendary, dude,” Nick says confidently. “You can record it out at the Thinking studio, it’ll be sweet.”

Tom’s just laughing, and Eden’s got this look on her face that reminds him how she was always able to read him so damn easily. The look says: don’t run away from doing something new; and: don’t be scared of how your life has changed; and: we still love you, asshole, don’t run away again.

Jon guesses he can read her pretty well too.


Jon isn’t sure what he expected recording to be like, but it’s not this. The first time he arranges to meet with Patrick, they don’t even talk about music, let alone Jon’s music. Instead they have a lively five-hour debate over the merits of second sequels versus third sequels, citing Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and the Godfather as examples. They forget to eat until Nick, who shows up halfway through, orders them Chinese.

The second time, he drives out to Patrick’s place, and they start talking about Marvin Gaye and Prince and the new Radiohead album. They sit in the den and eat stale popcorn out of a tin from last Christmas, putting on vinyl after vinyl and going until at least three in the morning.

The third time, Jon thinks he knows what to expect and picks up some sandwiches on his way over to Nick’s office. When he walks off the elevator into We Can’t Stop Thinking, he stops short: the entire workspace is covered in the detritus of dozens of packages and equipment boxes. He lets out a quiet “Whoa,” and Nick sticks his head up from behind a drum case, grinning wildly.

“How awesome is this shit?” he says, sweeping his arms out expansively. “Half of this stuff Patrick had in his basement. He’s so bad at impulse-buying, seriously.”

“It’s only with instruments. And recording equipment,” Patrick’s voice says from the general direction of a box marked, misleadingly, Shakespeare. “And sound boards and cool vintage stuff, and, okay, maybe there’s a reason I’ve been banned from eBay for awhile.”

Jon sets down his paper bag and carefully walks around the stack of hard cases just in front of the door, moving packaging out of the way with his cane as he goes. “What is all this for?” he asks, a little worried that Patrick wants to do something crazy with his short little songs about the Pacific Ocean and getting sand in unpleasant places.

“Well,” Patrick says, drawing out the word; his hat has been half-knocked off his head and he’s got bubble wrap stuck to his shirt, not that Jon has any intention of telling him that. “Some of it’s junk I’m loaning to Nick so he can play around with it for Tequila Mockingbird, and some of it I want to use with you, and some of it was too difficult to leave at home because of how it was arranged, so we just brought it all out here.”

“Yeah, Travie’s coming into town in about six weeks, I can’t wait for you to meet him,” Nick says, distracted by some wires that lead, apparently, nowhere.

“Are you sure you want to go to all this trouble for me? I mean, we haven’t even talked about what we’re doing here,” Jon says skeptically.

Patrick looks at him like he’s speaking Klingon or something. “Jon, this is exactly what all this crap is for,” he says, handing Jon a microphone that looks like it was stolen from Nashville circa 1945 and probably, Jon thinks, cost a few thousand dollars. He holds it very carefully.

“If you say so,” Jon shrugs, giving the mic back to Patrick before he breaks it by breathing on it too hard.

Patrick sniffs the air and he perks up. “Ooh, food,” he says, wading through all the stuff to the Jimmy John’s bag on the table.

“Man, you know, they do a veggie sub better than anyone in town,” Patrick says appreciatively, biting into his sandwich.

“Mmm,” Jon says noncommittally. He maybe has some opinions he’s not going to share. They mostly involve fruit.

“So listen,” Patrick says through a mouthful of food, holding his hand up in front of his face to mask his chewing. “I looked at those lyrics you gave me, and since I know you already have melodies for all of ’em, I’m gonna need you to play them for me so we can figure out what we want to work on.”

“All forty of them?” Jon says incredulously.

“Yes, Jon, all forty. You better get started,” Nick cackles head-deep in a floor tom.

Patrick just rolls his eyes. “Nah, I picked out about ten that I think we can develop for, like, a demo. Or actually, I’m thinking these are good enough that we could release an EP, just a short-run press. I don’t know, five hundred cds, maybe a hundred, two hundred seven inches. And stick it up online, of course, that’s a given. But you know, Jon, these are really strong lyrics. I had a feeling about you, but I’m definitely impressed,” he says, waving the business end of his sandwich at Jon.

“Thanks,” he says, and he means it. He never really meant for anyone to look at his songs critically, and he never thought about recording them. They were just fun at first, something to entertain the kids at the beach, and then they were a distraction on tour with a ready audience. Jon’s trying to get comfortable with the idea that other people are going to hear his music, people who won’t get the jokes or hear the waves behind it. It’s a little strange, but Patrick’s enthusiasm makes up for a lot.

They clear out a space among the chaos to finish the food and set up for Jon to play. It’s just Patrick and Nick, but with both of them watching him, listening only to him, it’s suddenly clear that Jon has an -audience.- He’s played to a few dozen people before, but it’s never freaked him out like this before.

“Um,” he says, trying to figure out where to start on the hastily-scrawled list on the back of a water bill Patrick’s given him.

Patrick’s shoved his hands in his pockets and pulled his fedora down over his eyes. “Listen, Jon,” he says seriously. “The first time I ever sang for people who weren’t my band, there were ten kids. Half of them weren’t paying attention, and the other half were waiting for the next guys to come onstage. I was fucking terrified. But right before I took that first breath to sing, Pete came up to me and whispered, ‘Sing for me, dude.’ So I closed my eyes, breathed out, and when I opened them I sung my stupid teenage heart out.” Patrick gives him a lopsided little grin and fiddles with the brim of his hat. “Every time I get onstage, I’m still scared as hell, but I figure as long as the dude next to me is listening, well, that’s one guy I’m singing for.”

Nick looks at Patrick with undisguised surprise. “I never knew that, Patrick.”

“Yeah, well,” Patrick says. “It’s not exactly something I tell people, that the guy who’s got a couple of gold plated records on his wall rocks stage fright as bad as a third-grader in a school play.”

“I bet I could sell that story to Spin and make some money,” Nick teases.

“And I could punch your face in, but you’ll notice my restraint,” Patrick retorts.

Jon laughs. “Okay. Thanks, Patrick. I guess I’ll try, well, how about ‘Kanaloa’s Dream?'”

“Oh, awesome,” Patrick says. “I totally have some thoughts about using taikos for this, and I spoke with my buddy down at the Sherwood Conservatory about borrowing a couple, but I need to hear the melody line to see if they can work together.”

That’s pretty much how the day goes, with Jon playing the songs as he remembers writing them and Patrick offering his thoughts on what they could do with them. Nick throws in his opinion, going back and forth between the couches and his computer, sometimes calling out ideas while he’s answering email.

They end up with six songs they want to work on: “Two Ducks and the Sea,” “I Don’t Give a Hoot,” “Fine Radical,” “Kanaloa’s Dream,” “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret,” and “Palmistry.”

Jon’s tired, but he’s pretty happy–this is an unexpected project, but he’s getting into it. It’s hard not to when Patrick’s ideas spill out faster than his mouth can keep up. They have two and a half weeks until Patrick heads back on tour, and he’s already talking about collaborating through email. Pete Wentz is supposed to show up next week, and Jon’s not sure if he wants something to happen or not. He’s going to try and do things one day at a time.

When Patrick talks about the kind of sound he wants to bring to this record, he talks about filters and exterior noises and tracking live. When Jon talks about the kind of sound he wants to bring to this record, he talks about the stories behind the words, and how they slip out carefully and precisely, laying out the images he sees in his head. Nick, who’s appointed himself Jon’s manager at some point, and Tom, who’s brought Alfred and Max from his band to help with the instrumentation, both think they’re saying the same things, just in different ways.

Thinking’s little studio was never meant to be more than a place where Nick could fool around with his solo work, and put together things for Travie as they slowly chip away at their next record. But with everyone there, they’ve had to get creative, taking doors off hinges and packing the soundproofed room, recording in bathrooms for the way the reverb sounds there and carefully stepping over the wires that trail everywhere. At any given time there are five people out at Thinking, listening or playing or working on Jon’s record, a record that was never supposed to exist.

Patrick has so much of his equipment here, and it’s set up haphazardly according to when they need it next. Cassie, who’s started coming by every day with some kind of meal in hand, makes disapproving noises every time someone trips over a cord. She takes it upon herself one evening to go through and completely re-work the entire setup so that it somehow all fits. Jon and Patrick and and Max, who’s really into old Fender strats right now and has some great ideas about adding some carefully placed licks in the dreamier moments of “Secret,” are sitting around with a couple bottles of wine Max brought, talking about song structure and the way Jon’s songs don’t always have a chorus. They somehow don’t notice all the banging and scraping and moving going on from the room next door (probably because the Specials vinyl that’s playing is turned up pretty loud, Jon will admit) and it’s not until Cassie comes out a couple hours later, dirt all over her t-shirt and hair in her eyes but with a very satisfied grin on her face that they realize she’s been doing something.

“I fixed it,” she says, fiercely proud, plopping into Jon’s lap when he sets his guitar down.

Patrick’s eyes go wide. “What?” he says, shooting up from the couch and running into the other room. When he comes out, the look of shock on his face is hilarious. “Oh my god, Cassie,” he breathes. “Can I hire you to, like, follow me around and do that all the time? That’s–how did you get all that stuff in there?”

“I already have a job,” she says loftily, swiping a potsticker from the table and taking a long drink of Jon’s tempranillo. “But feel free to show me the proper thanks by showing up at the gallery next week with Pete and taking some stupid cameraphone photos while you’re there. If he puts them up on his blog, all the little scenesters with their parents’ money will come in and buy shit, and I can do a 300% markup.” She gives Patrick a sunny smile, and Jon pulls her close, smiling into her hair. He thinks he might be falling in love with this woman. It doesn’t seem very hard to do.

In a week they’ve put together enough source material that Patrick feels comfortable taking on the road with him (forcing Jon to buy a new computer so he could review what Patrick was doing; watching Patrick Stump make a sex face in the Apple store was a high point of the week). Four songs are really solid, with backing from Tom and Alfred and Max, and even Sean came in to do some keyboards for him. Jon and Patrick had a short discussion about Patrick singing second vocals on the record, but Patrick was pretty adamant about only producing. “I want this to be your record,” he said, “and the problem is, Jon, I really love these songs. Ever since you played them for me, I haven’t been able to get them out of my head. It’s like–” he cuts himself off, trying to think through what he wanted to say.

“The thing is, the stuff I sing is amazing, and I wouldn’t change it for anything,” Patrick says seriously. “But these songs are like the polar opposite of what we’re doing in Fall Out Boy, you know? Pete’s songs–our songs–are filled with a thousand little pinpricks, and I’m always impressed by what he’s able to put down to words, because I could never do that. They’re important songs, I think. They’re fun, and they’re meaningful, but sometimes–” He stops again, tugging on the brim of his hat. He looks at Jon, giving a little smile as he does. “Sometimes I get really tired of putting that much out there. Especially because it’s not mine.”

Jon, who’s leaning against the pylon in the center of the Thinking offices, twists his hand around his cane and nods. “I know, dude,” he says with a matching smile of his own. “Let’s just say there’s a lot of photographs of mine people are never gonna see.”

Patrick laughs. “Yeah, exactly. But with your music–with this record–it’s like, I have to be so careful with them, because I want to make sure that they’re -your- songs. I want to make sure that I’m not taking too much of them for myself. ‘Cause I kind of want to,” Patrick says plainly. “They’re simple, but not simplistic, and you’ve got this way of telling the listener things without describing them that makes me a little envious. And frankly, I think if I started to sing these anywhere near a microphone I probably wouldn’t stop. So I’m not going to.”

Jon throws a companionable arm around Patrick’s shoulder, which is easy to do since Patrick is even shorter than he is. “Patrick Stump,” he grins, “do you want to do a Jon Walker cover record? I bet we could make that happen.”

Patrick bursts out laughing. “Oh, that would be awesome. Yes. I could call it ‘JWalk: Covered’ and it would sell ten copies.”

“I’d buy three of them,” Jon offered.

Patrick knocks their heads together, and it’s weirdly comfortable to be standing there, hanging off Patrick’s shoulder and joking like they’ve known each other all their lives. Patrick starts tugging him back to the studio for vocals on “Hoot,” and Jon groans, because he wanted to go use the sunlight to take some photos out in Bucktown today.

“Come on, little singer,” Patrick coaxes. “I can’t do a Jon Walker cover record if there’s no record to cover.”

“Fine, slavedriver,” Jon grouses, walking into the recording room and picking up his guitar.

By the time the rest of Patrick’s band shows up for practice for the kickoff show of their new tour, anyone who’s had even a little involvement with Jon’s record is fucking exhausted. They went from lyrics and a few chord changes to thirty-eight minutes of roughly mastered album in three weeks, and frankly, Jon has no clue how that happened. He used to have a couple notebooks filled with lyrics he’d never shown to anyone, and a handful of songs he played for the five people that would listen to him–not including his family. And now he’s got an almost finished album, and it’s something he never expected but somehow -loves-, suddenly and unreasonably.

Pete Wentz is supposed to show up in two days, and the only song they haven’t finished the recording on is “Palmistry,” which Patrick and Jon have been fighting about for a day and a half. By “fighting” they really mean Mario Kart deathmatches and half-distracted back-and-forths about what they want to do. Nick finds their argument style to be so ridiculous that he laughs himself sick, and they have to pause the game to throw pillows at him.

The problem is this: Jon, who wrote the song watching Eden and Anne Marie dance around each other for five years before either one of them ever made a move, wants it to just be his voice, overlaid on a guitar line so soft as to be almost nonexistant. He wants it to be spare, but not unpretty–for him, the words really need to be the focus, they need to be what the listener hears, because he never told Eden and Anne Marie that he wrote a song about them, for them, and he needs them to understand what he’s saying.

Patrick, though, has these sweeping ideas about strings–specifically a viola–and slow build-up into something grand and uplifting, and aside from the fact that Jon has no idea how they would pay for the performers on their budget of exactly nothing, he doesn’t want this song to be grand and uplifting. He wants it to be minimal and clear and a small window into what love is like for two people who were literally made for each other. It doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be real.

Jon has no idea how to tell Patrick this other than the five ways he’s already tried to say “No, Patrick, I want it simple,” that obviously haven’t worked.

Patrick’s Yoshi crashes spectacularly on the television in front of them and Patrick tosses the controller to the floor, grabbing his soda. “I don’t understand, though,” he says, wiggling his toes in his socked feet. “I mean, it’s obviously about true love, and true love is big and awe-inspiring and worthy of some strings.”

Jon makes a frustrated noise, pushing himself up from his little nest of cushions, grabbing Patrick’s hand when it’s offered. His bare feet slap lightly against the hardwood floor, and he can walk short distances without the aid of the stick now, thanks to Lars. He opens the fridge and stares moodily into it, finally grabbing a beer because Patrick is driving him to drink. Well, not really, but his face will be funny when Jon says that.

Jon stands looking in the fridge for long enough that his hand starts to get a little cold, and he’s looking at a postcard his brother Bill sent him from Seattle that has the Sound on it with the caption, “Seattle is for ferry fanciers!” It’s not his water, just like the Michigan isn’t his water, but just looking at it makes him twitch a little with the cognitive dissonance of being so far away from the ocean.

“Love isn’t always big,” he says, fingers curling around the neck of his beer, still staring at the postcard with the fridge door open, cooling his toes. “Sometimes it’s the one thing that makes sense in your life, like the ocean is blue or pineapple is sweet. But that doesn’t have to be something huge–it’s just a -fact,- a basic truth about your existence. Like: I love this person, and that is so much of who I am that there is no other way for me to be. I breathe, and I love. I talk, and I love. I surf, and I love. Everything else is real because that thing, that core part of you, is real. It’s not romantic. It’s just the truth.”

Jon twists the cap off his bottle and shuts the door, turning around to see Patrick looking at him pensively, his arms leaning against the counter and his hat in hand.

“No strings,” Patrick says.

“No strings,” Jon agrees.

Patrick hesitates, but he asks, “Is this about you?”

Jon thinks about his answer for a second, and says, “Mostly no. It’s about other people. But a little bit is about me.”


They finish the song, and when it’s done they’ve finished their initial recording for Jon’s EP, which he’s calling “Two Duck Love.” Nick throws them a party, and it’s pretty quiet for them, just the people involved in Jon’s record and the people who supported him. Jon can’t believe they’ve done all that work in so little time. He’s pretty amazed that Patrick Stump exists, much less took an interest in Jon’s little songs. He’s also a little bewildered that he’s only been living in Chicago for three, almost four months (and he would be lying if he said he didn’t live in Chicago now) and he’s somehow managed to acquire friends, family, a successful show of his work, and this collection of songs. He’s not certain how he stumbled into this life, but he’s pretty fucking thrilled with it.

Jon’s also got Cassie, and there’s something about the way she smiles that zings through him every time. She’s over talking to Joe Trohman by the fireplace about experimental urban art, and Jon thinks he’s a fucking lucky guy. They’re talking about maybe getting a place together, since her lease is coming up and Jon’s still living with his grandfather. It’s been a little over a month, but Jon is seeing a pretty long road.

He’s thinking about all of this, alone for a brief second while Tom goes and grabs something to drink, when Patrick comes up with a dark-haired guy about Jon’s height, a wide smile on his face.

“Pete, this is–” Patrick starts, but Pete cuts in front and grabs Jon’s free hand in his own.

“Jonny Walker,” Pete says like there’s a joke and Jon’s in on it. “Man, Patrick hasn’t been able to shut up about you for weeks. It’s nice to meet the guy I’m competing with for Patrick’s attention.”

Jon smiles, because it’s impossible not to when faced with Pete’s friendliness. “Hey, I’m delivering him back into your hands in the same condition I got him in.”

“Obsessed with minor chord progressions and old Leonard Cohen singles?” Pete says, dropping Jon’s hand.

“Exactly,” says Jon, looking over at Patrick who has an indulgent look on his face.

“So I hear you’ve put something together that’s pretty captivating,” Pete says, leaning against the back of a chair.

“Oh, Peter Peter Peter,” Tom says, coming back with what looks like vodka cranberries. At least it’s juice, Jon thinks, taking his. Lars will be happy he’s drinking juice. “What you don’t realize is that Jon Walker, here, is the next big thing,” Tom continues.

“Thomas, Thomas, Thomas,” Pete counters, “I make the next big things, so I think you’re going to need my opinion on this, stat.”

“What, you mean Patrick hasn’t send you the masters yet?” Tom says, genuinely surprised.

“I asked him not to,” Jon says, setting his drink down. “I kind of wanted to meet the man myself, first.”

Pete’s sharp gaze lands back on Jon. “And now you have,” he says, reaching around to tug Patrick’s iPod from his back pocket, “so why don’t we go give this a listen?”

Patrick makes a face when Pete plays grabass with him, but says, “Stephanie said we could use the second bedroom. Nick set up a sound deck in there for her, and the acoustics aren’t bad.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Pete says, launching from his rest and striding towards the bedroom, giving them no choice but to follow.

Jon raises an eyebrow at Patrick, who just throws up his hands. Jon is becoming familiar with a lot of Patrick’s expressions these days, and he’s pretty certain that one is just for Pete.

The second bedroom is really more an office with a futon, and Jon chooses to lean against the wall instead of sitting down when Patrick offers because he’s been coming off his pills, and it’s a little too challenging for him to get up still. Patrick fiddles with some cables and then his music is coming out of the speakers, still rough and still some time away from being truly finished, but it’s all there and it’s all his. He closes his eyes and listens.

Patrick is murmuring things to Pete, probably about production and how they did things and the structure of the songs, but Jon isn’t listening. He’s heard all these tracks hundreds of times by now, but he was waiting to hear it all together. There had been a couple scuffles about what order to put the songs in, though they had mostly agreed on the progression of the music. None of his songs are dark, but a couple of them have some heaviness to them, and they spaced that out over the album so that it would end on a high note.

It opens with “Two Ducks and the Sea,” and Jon’s foot is tapping with the springy beat, singing a little along with the chorus. The slide into “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” is smooth and relaxed, a little bit of a dance song for starry nights in the sand. “I Don’t Give a Hoot” bounces into the first verse with Patrick’s trumpet behind it, a little rough around the edges as Patrick relearned how to play. The sounds sinks into him with “Kanaloa’s Dream,” lush and green with the acoustic and electric guitars playing back and forth over each other, Alfred’s bassline strong and steady behind it all. “Fine Radical” pulls him back up, making him sing under his breath to Sean’s piano and the tall African drums Max had learned to play for this song, borrowed from the Sherwood Conservatory and quickly returned. And it all ends with the quiet certainty of “Palmistry,” spreading out over him until the last fading note from the guitar is silenced. When he looks up, Pete’s staring at him with a mixture of curiosity and satisfaction.

“You want a record deal?” Pete says offhandedly. “‘Cause if you want one, I can have the papers by eight AM tomorrow.”

Jon stares at Pete for a good few seconds. He’s been thinking about this for awhile, ever since Patrick started talking about really doing this and Jon stopped thinking he was joking.

The thing is, Jon’s in a pretty good place financially. Even with his injury, he made a lot of good decisions about his money early on, first at his parents’ insistence and later because he’d gotten used to saving up and investing, so it was harder to make stupid financial decisions in the long run. He never really moved out of his parents’ place, and he never bothered to buy a car before the one he has now. He doesn’t have any property, apart from the investments he made through his accountant, and pretty much everything he needed fit into a backpack or a duffel that was always tour-ready.

He’s done a lot of reading about the music industry, and talked a lot with Tom and Nick, and his lawyer has already prepared the papers he needs to incorporate, if he wants to distribute this record. When he talked about it, briefly, with Patrick, Patrick said he was doing this because it was the first thing he’d been excited about in awhile, and that Jon could pay him if the record sold. And Jon’s been arguing with himself, with Mike and Jerry, with Cassie, with his parents, for the past few weeks about what he wants to do.

Jon’s really happy with what he’s done here, making this record with Patrick and his friends, putting something together that is unexpectedly just what he never knew he always wanted. But he thinks he’d be okay if it never left the circle of people who have heard it being made, or knew about the songs from before. He doesn’t really need an audience bigger than the ten or twenty people who love him.

But Cassie and Tom and Nick all ganged up on him and took him for sushi one night, and over four hours of avocado rolls and tofu nigiri and Asahi they convinced him that the point of making music, the reason he started doing it in the first place, was because it made him happy that other people liked listening to his music. If he didn’t take the chance to do something more with this record than let it sit untouched on Patrick’s hard drive, they said they would disown him. Or at least throw water balloons at him in February.

He has a lot of thoughts on this. He’s looked at Decaydance, and he’s learned a lot about the bands on Pete’s label and on Fueled By Ramen. He likes most of what he’s heard, and he likes how they all seem like a family. But Tom’s band isn’t on Pete’s label for a reason, and Jon also thinks he wants to do this one his own terms and see how it plays out. If he’s going to do this, if he’s going to do something with this music he’s made and the scene that’s embraced him and the people he has pulling for him, he wants to do it by himself and not step into someone else’s party.

He goes through all of that in his head, one more time, and he walks up to Pete and holds out his hand. Pete stands, and takes it, and Jon thinks that Pete’s probably going to understand. Pete started his whole thing to be on his own terms, after all.

“Thank you so much,” Jon says as sincerely as he can. “It really means a lot to me that you think my music is good enough for your label. You’re doing some cool stuff over there, and I think that’s great. But no. I don’t want a record deal.”

Patrick makes a startled noise and stands. “What?” he says.

Pete just nods, and shakes Jon’s hand. “Nah, that’s cool,” he says, grinning. “I think you’re gonna do great, man. And I’m totally mentioning you in my blog. Can I have a copy of the master for my iPod? I’d love to listen to it some more.”

“Of course,” Jon says. “Patrick can get it for you.”

“Great,” Pete says, clapping Jon on the shoulder. “I’m gonna go back out to the party. Thanks for letting me listen to your album, Jon.”

“No problem,” Jon says, watching him go. He turns back to Patrick, whose face is a little red like he’s trying to figure out what to say.

“Hey,” Jon says, grabbing Patrick’s arm. “Hey, listen, just because I don’t want to sign doesn’t mean I don’t want to put out the record,” he says with a smile.

Patrick’s face immediately clears. “Oh thank fuck,” he says. “I–well, I don’t know what I was gonna do, but I was gonna do something, because I think my head’s gonna come off if that music doesn’t get out soon.”

Jon just laughs. “I just want to put it out myself, Patrick. That’s all. I have the money, and Nick knows a good presser. We’re gonna do a limited run and see how it goes.”

Patrick crosses his arms. “So if you knew that’s what you wanted to do, why didn’t you tell me? Why did you let me drag Pete all the way out here if you were gonna say no, for maximum bubble bursting?”

Jon cocks his head. “Of course not,” he disagrees. “You were just so good about waiting until he got here to show him what we did that I wanted to make it memorable. And I wasn’t completely sure I was going to say no until he asked. It might have gone another way. I just needed to meet him first.”

Patrick relaxes a little, and then punches him lightly in the chest. “Dude, you suck. But that’s okay. You’re record is really fucking great.”

“Well, our record,” Jon corrects, and Patrick nods his head. “But yeah. It really is.”


What they do is this: Nick and Jon work through all the options of setting the record to press. Jon fills out a metric ton of forms, puts aside a chunk of money, and they start working on the booklet cover while Patrick gets satisfied with the master.

It’s another few weeks of work, easily, with Nick putting his graphic design skills to work and Tom, Cassie, and Jon bickering over which photographs to use. They’re agreed on black and whites, and two of Jon’s better surf photography are used. But Cassie and Tom want to put some pictures of him in there, and Jon doesn’t quite know why.

Nick finally settles the argument by finishing the cover–a squiggly little drawing of two ducks, wings entwined like hands, swimming towards a horizon with a setting sun–and using a photo that Jon doesn’t remember being taken, of him sitting outside with a big smile on his face, elbows on his knees and his hands hanging loosely between them. He looks happy.

Nick makes a website and Jon listens to what Patrick’s been working on, saying yes, no, yes, yes, no to all the different things Patrick’s tried. After a furious set of emails where the term “assface” was used affectionately more than once, they think they have a final copy for production. Everyone at Thinking and Forevernever sends up a toast to Patrick Stump, wherever he is that day.

They order three hundred 12″, because Jon is an unabashed vinyl lover, and a thousand CDs. Nick sets up a digital download and puts up a t-shirt at Snakes & Suits that says “jwalk is coming.” Jon thinks it’s hilarious and stupid, but they still sell fifty of them in ten days, somehow. Then Pete is photographed wearing one out in LA, and suddenly Nick is inundated with orders and cackling that he needs some money bags, because Jon is bank.

Nick sweet-talks the local indie stores and a few of the bigger ones downtown to stock a few copies of his album, and when the first pressing arrives at Thinking, everyone huddles around the box like it’s the first time fire was invented. He pulls out a perfect, beautiful copy of “Ducks” in its yellow paper case, carefully slides out the vinyl, and just stares.

He has a record. He has a record.

He has a record, and he’s never played a real gig. Nick has arranged for him to play a launch party at Schuba’s, somehow; Jon thinks it’s probably better not to question how, exactly, Nick gets things done. Especially because within the first week of having the album, he’s somehow booked to do five gigs, so whenever he’s at home he’s wandering around, singing his songs; with Cassie, bundled up in coats, looking for signs of snow, he’s singing under his breath; on the phone, Patrick’s laughing at him because he’s singing without realizing it, and Patrick’s well familiar with doing that.

Schuba’s is packed full of people, and Jon’s never been more terrified in his life. His family’s here, his friends are here, friends of friends are here, people he doesn’t even know are here. He can’t think of a single time in his life that he’s ever performed for anyone he didn’t halfway know; he can’t imagine going up there with all those faces he can’t clearly see and doing this for them.

The dudes from Empires are there to back him up, and at soundcheck Tom had taken him aside and told him that no matter what, they were supporting him, and if he freaked out, Jon should just look to his side and Tom would be there. Jon hugged him close then, flipping out and unashamed, and Tom just laughed and patted his back until Max yelled for them to get back to testing their sound.

And now here he is, about to go onstage in his scuffed-up Converse and old surf shop t-shirt from teenage summers past, to play for a bunch of people he can’t even see. The other dudes are laughing quietly beside him, some joke Jon can’t hear because of the ringing sound of freaking out in his head. Nick’s up there in front of the microphone, talking about Jon and about Jon’s record, thanking them all for coming out and pointing at the merch table at the back of the room. Nick says, “I know you guys want to hear this music, so give it up for Jon Walker and special guests, Empires!” and the guys stream around him with confidence Jon can’t even pretend to have. Tom grabs him by the shoulder and ducks his head down close, shout-whispering in his ear of the sound of cheering just beyond the side of the stage, “Jonny, come on, dude. You killed a ten-footer down at Pipeline without breaking a sweat, and you’re gonna let this little crowd put fear in you? You can do this.”

Jon just looks at Tom, and Tom looks unblinkingly back. “I googled you, man,” Tom says with a hint of a smile around his lips, and it makes Jon erupt into laughter, enough for Tom to tug him out onto that stage with just a little of the fear pulled back.

He can’t see the faces of the audience, but that makes it better somehow. They go right into “Two Ducks and the Sea” and a couple people are already singing the words back to him, probably his family and Cassie; but the chorus is easy to pick up and the atmosphere is relaxed and easy, so by the end of the song the whole crowd has gotten into it. As the slide down into the last chorus of the song, Jon grins back at Tom, at Alfred and Sean, and grabs the mic with one hand. “Thanks so much for coming to this shindig, guys,” he says to the crowd, and gets an answering cheer. “It’s the first time I’ve done this without a campfire in front of me, but I think we’re not allowed to do that kind of thing in here. Or so I’m told.”

“I’ll click my lighter for you!” a woman’s voice comes out of the crowd, and Jon grins and says, “Thanks, Mom.”

The set goes easy, sliding out of his hands and into the audience until he’s not worrying about what people are thinking; he’s only focused on the music, on drawing out these stories for anyone who’s going to listen, just like on the beach. They’re in the middle of “Palmistry” and he’s singing about waiting and hoping and wishing when homesickness hits him like a swell. The next song in the set is “Secret,” and Jon curls up against the microphone Patrick had schooled him on how to use properly. “You know, guys, I’m pretty lucky,” he says without really knowing what he’s trying to say. “I’m lucky enough to have family here in Chicago, a bunch of people who stepped up to be there for me when even I didn’t know I needed them. But I also have family out in O’ahu, not just in people but out in the waves, and this is the song we’d dance to when we didn’t want to leave the water, but had to get a little dry.”

Tom comes up close to him, a quiet presence at his back, and Jon is a little shocked at how deep the song sounds when his mood’s like this. He’s only ever played it with a smile on his face, and he’s not far from that now, but the image of JJ and Lena shaking their asses to his song one night out in a quiet break beach makes him a little sad still. He’s not going to go back, not right now with everything he has going on. But he thinks he could, now. He could without getting hurt again.

After the show people are crowding around him, getting him to sign their records next to the little numbered sticker they’d placed so carefully on the cds and vinyl. Someone hands him a drink, and a lot of pictures are taken. He gets someone to grab his cane from the green room because all the running around has made his leg throb, even with the alcohol, but eventually the crowd dissipates with enthusiastic assurances that they’ll catch his next gigs. It’s only his family, and his Chicago family, that stick around, and they’re talking and laughing and looking over at Jon with fond looks. It’s a good night. The best night, maybe.


It starts with Chicagoland gigs, but somehow Nick’s phone is ringing off the hook as a little buzz gets up around Jon and soon the Tri-State is running him around. It’s pretty much just him and his guitar, maybe some other people if they have the time and it’s convenient, but Jon’s pretty comfortable hopping into the car with Cassie and Tom and Nick and heading out to whatever venue will have him. It’s turning out to be a pretty steady gig, and before he knows it he’s got offers to go out on tour, opening for some people Nick likes, and he just rolls with it.

Then Travie puts out a remix of “Two Ducks and the Sea” on his website, just a jokey little thing Nick had showed him one day and Jon had laughed and said Travie could do whatever he wants with it. It gets downloaded three thousand times in the first day, and suddenly Nick has to get another phone–one for Jon and one for the rest of his life.

“Two Ducks” is getting airplay, radio stations showing up at his gigs for interviews and questions. The college newspapers all ask for some time, as do the local indie weeklies, and it’s strange to see his own name in print again, especially for such different reasons.

When Jon’s booked up for the next six months, and everyone’s starting to dream of spring returning, he and Nick sit down with some fries and a beer for a conversation they’ve needed to have for awhile.

“So,” Jon starts, taking a pull off his longneck. “You don’t have to do this, you know. You didn’t sign on for the kind of gig this is becoming.”

Nick looks at him contemplatively, dousing the fries in too much ketchup and dropping a couple into his mouth. “That’s true,” he says. “But Jon…” He trailed off, looking away. “I don’t think you get that you coming back, you doing this, was kind of a big deal for me.” He grins and continues, “I never expected to get into the industry this way, dude, I was pretty happy where I was, doing my thing with Travis. But I don’t, Jonny Walker, you make me want to make things happen for you. You make me want to be a part of what you’re doing, and I haven’t felt like that in awhile. It’s kind of fucking cool.”

Jon’s not sure what to say–he doesn’t want to take Nick away from the things he’s working on, but Jon knows he couldn’t do this himself. He’s pretty sure his life would be really different if Nick Scimeca hadn’t walked right back into it.

“Well,” he says slowly. “I want to you to stay. If that’s what you want. If it’s not going to take you too much from Thinking or from Tequila Mockingbird or Stephanie or anything.”

“It’s what I want,” Nick says, pushing the basket of fries towards Jon. “Let’s keep doing this thing, Walker. Let’s see where it goes.”

Jon goes home from that conversation a little tired, a little drunk, and with a little bit of pain shooting up his side. His PT is pretty much over, apart from checks on his movement every couple of weeks, and Lars had made him swear on a stack of Bob Dylan vinyl that he would go for a walk once a day to keep things moving, but some days are still a struggle and probably always will be. He’d worked up the courage to ask if he’d ever get back on a surfboard, and Lars had just looked at him pensively. “Maybe,” he said finally. “Maybe not.” It’s not the reassurance Jon was looking for, but he’ll take what he can get.

He walks into the ground-floor apartment he shares with Cassie out near Old Town, to be close to her gallery and convenient to their friends. Moving in together had been seamless, like it’s what was meant to happen. It’s hard to fault his wipeout when it brought Cassie to Jon.

She’s reading at the kitchen table with a glass of wine by her book, tucked into a fluffy white bathrobe. She looks up when he kisses her neck and winds his arms around her. The calendar behind them has box after box marked in sharpie for the dates he’s out of town, the dates she’s opening shows at the gallery. They see each other enough, talk on the phone even more, and they’ve talked about love, about a future. His dad’s already started talking contemplatively about another Walker marriage, and Mike jokes that he’s going to be a bachelor forever, just to mess up the curve.

“How did it go?” Cassie murmurs into his arm.

“Good,” Jon says. “Nick wants to keep managing, said he was okay putting Thinking on the back burner for awhile. He can manage most of that stuff on the road anyway. We just needed to talk it out.”

“I’m glad,” Cassie says, her hands tightening on his arm.

Jon looks down in concern and says, “Hey, hey–what’s up?”

“I just found you, Jonathan Walker,” she says quietly when he sits down opposite her. “It kind of sucks to lose you all the time.”

He cups her face, kisses her softly, chastely, and says, “I’m not going anywhere.”


Jon goes back to touring like it’s second nature. It’s different in a lot of ways–a lot more driving around, for one, and having to relearn how to sit for long periods of time. They’re in the middle of the US, branching outward in either directions as the schedule takes them, instead of hopping from coastline to coastline, following the waves. But a lot of things are still the same, the camraderie that develops between people decamping from one place to another, the ways to entertain yourself on the road. Jon still has his iPod, guitar, and camera, and if now his guitar is a little nicer than it was before, if his iPod has his own tracks on it as well as The Kinks, Who, and Clash, well, it’s mostly like before.

Nick and Jon rehash every moment of their lives going through state after endless state. It’s the first time Jon’s seen a lot of it, and Nick makes a point at stopping by every ridiculous tourist attraction until Jon threatens him with death by skittles if they have to see another ball of twine. They meet a lot of bands, a lot of musicians, a lot of people in the industry, and so many people are positive about Jon and Jon’s music. Sometimes they set up a jam after the show, and people will stick around, laughing and listening and having a great time. It’s fun, and exhilerating, and Jon feels like he’s coming home to a part of his life he didn’t think he’d get again.

He only gets a handful of days home at a time, sometimes a couple weeks between tours, but even then there are always people that want to talk to him, people Nick wants him to go see. They’re doing really well selling the cd at shows, and putting some merch out there, but they’re doing even better at downloads. Even if people aren’t buying the full album, “Two Ducks” is getting knocked up the downloaded singles charts and the bigger places–MTV, Rolling Stone, Spin–are taking an interest.

He sleeps, spends time with Cassie and their cat, visits his grandfather and catches up with Tom when he’s in town. But it always seems like he’s heading right back out on the road, and every time he leaves it’s getting harder, knowing that he’s built something in Chicago that’s worthwhile.

Jon can tell all the shows he’s doing is having an impact on his playing, too. He’s way better than he was before, and he’s practicing all the time, sending Patrick his rough thoughts and GarageBand foolings, listening to what Patrick’s working on in return. He marks his days by the shows he plays, by the conversations he has with Cassie while wandering around the back of the venues, by the songs he’s writing now. They’re talking about doing another pressing of the record if sales keep up like this, and Patrick’s already making noises about distribution and working on a real LP this time.

Somehow months slip by, and when Jon looks up he’s been living out of Chicago for a year, in and out and looping back to his apartment every time. Nick’s arranged a deal with Artemis Records that everyone’s happy with, leaving Jon with a lot of control but with the resources to take things much further than he could on his own. They want him to put out a full-length, but to take some time on it. Patrick’s talked him up to Butch Walker, who won’t take no for an answer about producing Jon’s record with Patrick. Nick’s banging out details for everyone’s schedules while Jon has a couple weeks to chill and look over his new songs and spend time with his girlfriend.

He’s asleep in their bed when she gets home, shedding her clothes and crawling into bed with him. He pulls her close automatically, drawing in the scent of her skin as she shudders and sighs in his arms.

“Hi,” he says sleepily, feeling her fingers draw patterns on his skin. “I have three weeks to do nothing but be here, with you. I vote for delivery, movies, and a firm no-leaving-this-bed rule. How about you?”

“Jon,” she says, and there’s something in her voice that sets off a bell in his head. She sighs again, her breath disturbing the fine hairs on his arm. “I don’t think I can do this.”

Jon pulls away and sits up, trying to clear the sleep from his eyes. “What do you mean?”

She’s not looking at him, instead focusing on one of Tom’s prints they loved enough to hang in their bedroom. “You know, it’s one thing for your friends to always be on and off the road. It sucks if you don’t see your friends, or your business partner, even. But you can get through it, you can be happy to see them when they come back and by happy that they’re doing what they love when they’re away. It’s different when it’s your boyfriend.”

Jon can’t touch her, but he wants to; he just watches the line of her back as she breathes, working to get the words out.

“I’ve seen you four weeks out of the last eight months, Jon. And I know we talk on the phone every day, but it’s not the same. I need you to be around, and you can’t be around. I don’t want you to give up what you’re doing–I don’t think you can give up what you’re doing. But I can’t have a relationship with someone who’s never there. I’m in love with you, Jon, but I think I’m going to get my heart broken if we keep up this way, and I don’t want you to be the reason for that. I love you too much.”

Jon’s choking on his words; he can’t figure out what to say. He’d thought about buying her a ring while he was at home, maybe asking her to marry him before he went out again.

“Is there someone else?” he asks finally, because he has to know.

She looks at him then, meeting his eyes. “Not yet.” The unspoken but there could be rings through the room.

“I don’t want to lose you,” he says. Cassie turns fully, pulling him into her arms, the reverse of how they were moments before. “You won’t,” she tells him. “I promise, you’re always going to have me in your life, Jon Walker. You’re not rid of me that easily.”

He looks at the dark tan of his skin, not so easily lost, against her fair colouring. “I’ll make you a deal,” he says, blinking hard. “I want these three weeks with you, and then we can break up.”

She looks at him, consideringly. “Are you sure?” she says, cautious. “It’s going to hurt more if we do that. I want it too–I want you, Jon. But it’s going to hurt.”

He brings her mouth to his, kissing her with all the things he’s not letting show on his face. It’s a better answer than any other he can give. When they pull apart, Cassie’s breathing has gone fast and she’s flushed. “Okay,” she says. “Three weeks.”

“Delivery, movies, and this bed,” he echoes himself, and kisses her again.


The studio this time is bigger, nicer, and still somehow crammed with equipment. Jon’s trying to concentrate on the conversation Patrick and Butch are having in front of him, but yesterday he moved most of his things out of their apartment and into Tom’s spare room, with everything that couldn’t fit going to Grandpa Jerry’s. Cassie had kept the apartment and Jon got the cat, even though Dylan was staying with Cassie until he figured out what he wanted to do. They’d decided they were going to keep out of each other’s way for awhile, just until it didn’t hurt quite so bad. It was already nearly impossible to avoid each other–they had too many of the same friends, all of whom were floored by their break-up. But Jon finds that if he keeps to the studio and Tom’s apartment, he can hide away from just about anything.

He’s not writing break-up songs just yet, but he’s been listening to a lot of Johnny Cash.

The dialogue in front of him breaks, and there’s a hand on his knee, shaking it lightly. “Hey, Jon,” Patrick says gently.

“What?” he says, lifting his head from where he was considering the sound board absently. “Yeah, sorry. Something about the marimba?”

Patrick laughs a little, but Butch just looks at him with concern. Jon likes Butch–if there were ever a dude that had seen everything and lived to write songs about it, it was this guy. But right now Butch looks like he wants to have a talk with Jon about things, about girl-things, and the thought makes Jon want to run in the other direction.

“I want to demo something,” he says abruptly, pushing himself up in his chair.

“Um, okay,” Patrick says, cocking his head for a moment before turning and running things on the board. “Just, you know. Go for it.”

Jon walks out of the room, limping slightly for sitting too long. He pulls his guitar out of the stand and tunes it briefly, quickly, liking the way it’s gone a little flat. It suits his mood.

He pulls on the headphones and chooses to stand instead of sit, adjusting the microphone and waiting for Patrick’s cue in his ear.

“You’re set, Jon,” Patrick says, and Jon opens his mouth, takes a deep breath, and sings.

They’re words he’s had churning in him for awhile, and he needs to work on it some more, needs better transitions and the chorus is a little clunky, but the feeling is there, and that’s all he cares about. “Sweep me aside,” he sings, almost crying out the words, “and I’ll be fine, I’ll just get back up for more. You hit harder than the swell beneath my feet, but I can’t walk away, no–

It’s not perfect. It’s not the right words for what happened with Cassie, not all of it, but it’s not the words that are important anyway. It’s the way he sings them. This is an echo of what he felt lying broken and washed-up on the beach a year ago, and he healed from that. He’ll heal from this too. This time he knows what to expect.

When he finishes on a thrashing chord and a high, clear, loud as hell note, he’s breathing harshly into the mic. His guitar is practically vibrating in his hands with all he beat out of it. He doesn’t look at Butch or Patrick through the glass, just sets aside his guitar and walks out of the room, out of the studio, into his car and drives. He texts sry to Patrick, sets the wheel north, and doesn’t stop until he’s well out of the city and the sun is setting a bright orange and blue in the sky.


They don’t use that song on the record, but they have a lot of good ones, and once Jon’s gotten that out of him he’s able to focus on the work that needs to be done. There’s a lot more room to move with this record, a lot more funding with a label that’s really excited to have him on board and is willing to give him the creative space he wanted this time.

They take three months to do it together, Butch residing in Chicago for the duration and Patrick in and out as his other commitments demand. Butch and Jon go out and do some gigs together, quiet things that get really enthusiastic audiences willing to listen to them play around. As the time goes on Jon feels the pressure in his chest recede, the pain start to melt away. When Tom hesitantly mentions the new show opening at Forevernever, Jon’s surprised to find that he agrees to go, and even though he and Cassie don’t speak that night, they do nod at each other, and Jon thinks they’ll probably be okay. The hardest part of all of it, the whole ending, is the bone-deep knowledge Jon has that they were going somewhere. They were going to be something. But he doesn’t fault her for wanting more. His life has never been a normal one, and he can’t ask anyone, especially someone he loves, to change when he can’t.

Most of the songs are in the can, so to speak, and they’re having little battles over the last few. Jon ropes Patrick into singing with him on a couple songs, and he’s surprised at how good their voices sound together. Patrick pulls back a lot, to let Jon’s somewhat less accomplished voice come through; but there’s some potential there to take things to a different place. He’s going to bug Patrick about it, maybe a side project, but they’re too busy with everything else that he tables it for later.

Only one song ends up being about losing Cassie, and even that’s a pretty tame one, threads of wishful thinking and other roads taken woven in with Spanish guitar and the low buzz of the marimba behind it. Even Butch gets a little teary-eyed when they listen to the mixing for the first time, and Jon would be proud but he feels kind of tired.

Patrick flits in and out of the studio every other week, keeping up with their progress through video chat and shared documents and lots and lots of emails. Towards the end, as they’re wrapping up, he pops his head in on one of the weeks he was supposed to be working on another project (Pete got Patrick an assistant, which is the only way he’s ever where he’s supposed to be at any given time) and Jon and Butch and Stephen the sound tech guy all greet him with pleasant surprise.

“Hey,” Patrick says with his slightly crooked smile. “Didn’t think I’d be out here, but it turns out that the other project I’m working on got moved to Chicago to be closer to Decaydance, and they’re in the studio next over, which is pretty convenient for me.”

“Oh yeah?” Jon asks, tilting his chair backwards to look over his shoulder at Patrick. “What’s that, one of Pete’s baby bands?”

Patrick looks contemplative. “Well, they used to be,” he says. “They were kind of the original Decaydance baby band, but they got a little huge. Panic at the Disco?”

“Hey, I know those dudes,” Butch says, twirling a spare drumstick in his hands. “They did that thing with the Sgt. Pepper reworking a couple years ago. I liked that. It showed promise.”

“Don’t say that to Ryan Ross or you’re going to have the rest of your life to talk about the pan-genre influences of the Beatles and the role of naivete in the reinvention of the medium,” Patrick warns, laughing. It sounds like he knows from experience.

Butch laughs right back, and Jon just grins along. He’s never been able to keep track of all the bands Pete and Patrick work with, all the kids they’ve fostered in this industry. Jon guesses he’s kind of one of them now, but in a different way. They’re good people, Patrick and Pete. He’s a little surprised they haven’t made a business out of their relationship, apart from their band; but then, he guesses they don’t have to.

“You wanna meet ’em?” Patrick asks, waving them through the door, and Jon and Butch say sure and head out behind him. Jon’s back on the cane this week, his physical therapy picking up as the weather changes, which is just one more fun fact he’s learned about his body in the time since his wipeout.

They head down to the other studio, and there’s noises of laughter and insults and a couple of guitars thrown in too. It’s a familiar cacophony, and Jon’s smiling even before he walks in, barefoot on the carpet floor.

A bunch of dudes, probably in their early twenties, and two women, one in her twenties and another considerably older, are relaxed into the couches in the sound room, throwing nerf balls back and forth while one guy in bright purple glasses and a blazer that looks older than Jon picks out a pretty melody line behind all the conversation. When they walk in, it’s to a chorus of hellos and smiling faces.

“Guys, you remember Butch–I think you met at the Songwriting Showcase out in California a year or two ago? And this is Jon Walker–”

“Two Ducks and the Sea!” the guy in the purple glasses exclaims, jumping out of his seat and practically throwing his guitar at the woman in the black and red hoodie next to him. To her credit, she seems used to that sort of thing, and catches it easily, setting it down. “I love that song, dude! That’s so amazing, I love your EP, I haven’t been able to take it off my iPod.”

“He loves it more than the Aladdin soundtrack,” a thin guy, folded up in his chair with a bit of stubble chasing the line of his chin, says with wry amusement.

“Which is saying something,” chimes in the woman in the hoodie.

“Um, thanks,” Jon says easily, sticking out his hand to Purple Glasses Guy, who’s practically vibrating in front of him.

Patrick is laughing at Jon with his eyes. “This guy heaping adulation on you is Brendon Urie, lead singer; the one curled up in the couch is Ryan Ross, on guitar; Alicia Simmons Way on bass, and Spencer Smith on drums.” A guy in a vintage Blue Öyster Cult t-shirt and a well-kept beard waves at him.

“And this lovely woman in the corner is Madeleine Peyroux, who’ll be producing Panic’s record.”

“Hello,” she says with a smile and a delicate accent, holding out a well-manicured hand to Jon. He takes it, wishing he’d at least put on flip-flops.

“Hello, Madeleine,” Butch says with some history in his voice, and she responds in kind; they move to a quiet corner to have a brief discussion, leaving Patrick and Jon in the company of the band.

“So these are the guys stealing you away from me, huh, Patrick?” Jon teases, poking him in the shin with his cane.

“Just for one song!” Patrick protests. “Besides, I think we really lucked out having them record here.”

“It’s just because Pete’s a control freak,” Alicia says with warmth.

“I think he prefers ‘control enthusiast,'” Ryan says from the couch.

“He didn’t used to be like this,” Patrick says, shaking his head. “It used to be he wouldn’t even entertain the idea of having an office.”

“Which is now why he has offices in LA, Chicago, and New York,” Brendon points out with obvious delight.

“Hey, so,” Patrick says. “I’m supposed to be hashing out some stuff with these guys about the tracks we’re working on–”

“I thought you said it was just one song,” Jon points out, but Patrick ignores him and continues, “–but maybe we could just hang out for a little while.”

“Yes!” Brendon says, grabbing Jon by the arm–carefully, belying his enthusiasm–and tugging him over to one of the couches. “You need to tell me everything about your songs. Especially ‘Kanaloa’s Dream,’ because it’s so pretty, and I love the way the chord progression builds in the minor third. What’s up with that?”

Jon grins. He thinks he likes this band.


It gets to be a regular thing, going over to the Panic room (as Jon likes to call it) for whatever meal they decide to call lunch and shooting the shit for an hour or two before heading back to work. They’re almost done, and the work is both easier and harder with Patrick around more consistently. On the one hand, when they’re all in sync the mixing flows like an Indian Ocean breaker; on the other, sometimes they can get hung up on one minor detail in three directions from three very intense guys. For the most part though, Jon can see the end of the road, and he’s pretty happy with what he’s done.

Panic is a cool group of people, and it’s an interesting experience watching another band start to develop their record–especially one as seasoned as Panic at the Disco. This is their third studio album, and they’ve been touring with breaks only for recording for years now. Jon learns they they’re younger than even he is, and he’s a little impressed. More than a little.

Brendon is easy and open almost all the time, pulling Jon close to tell him jokes or stories or talk about their favorite top ten singles from 1975-1985. It’s like he’s almost always on. Jon listens in on the vocal tracking Brendon is demoing for a song they’ve working titled “Green Water Rhythm” and he’s just blown away by the passion and control he’s got going on. They play tipsy Queen covers and annoy everyone by quoting lines of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” back and forth at each other like code, giggling in a corner when the others pelt crunched up sheets of paper at them.

Ryan seems reserved at first, but the front quickly crumbles–at least, it crumbles for Jon. One afternoon they’re sent on a taco run, and they’re cursing the heater in Jon’s car for being too slow to work. As they shiver on the drive out to fast food or tex-mex, whatever they find first, Ryan turns to look at Jon and says, “I like your lyrics. I like the stories you tell.”

Jon hears the admiration latent in the words and says, “Thanks. I like yours too. I don’t understand ’em, but I like ’em.”

Ryan’s laughter is unexpected but pleasing, and Jon decides then and there he wants to get this guy to laugh as much as possible. Even if it means he has to engage with Brendon in Tickle Wars.

Alicia is nice but a little disengaged. She’s away from her husband and spends a lot of time talking to him on the phone when they’re not tracking or working on songs. Jon respects that, even more now that he’s not with Cassie, and smiles at her when she seems a little down. Then again, one night she comes in with Twister and a bottle of Jose Cuervo looking like she’s ready to take them all out, and Jon thinks she’s probably better at coping with being away from her spouse than he ever would have been. She’s a fine bassist too, and a careful musician, pointing out flaws and making suggestions that everyone takes seriously no matter how minor.

And then there’s Spencer Smith. Spencer Smith is…a problem.

He’s obviously a great, intelligent guy, with a killer smile and top-notch percussion chops. He’s thoughtful and generous and holds the door open for everyone. He makes fresh bread and brings it in with apple butter and a pot of coffee, and everyone swoons at his feet. He calls his sisters every couple of days and shows pictures of his dogs like they’re his kids. He watches everything that’s going on and knows when to call it quits on a day when Ryan looks stormy and uncompromising and Brendon looks ready to throttle someone with his hands and Alicia is gripping her phone in her pocket like it’s a golden ticket out of there. Even Madeleine is in the palm of his hands, asking him sweetly if he liked how the sound rounded out in take five more than the sharp staccato in take four. He’s gorgeous and competent and that is a very big problem for Jon, because he is falling hard and falling fast and this–this ridiculous freefall into someone else–has never happened to him before.

He’s kind of freaking out, because it feels like he’s barely broken up with Cassie (even though it was months ago) and he doesn’t want to–no, he can’t risk that again. It didn’t feel like this with Cassie; with her it was like something right was clicking into place, something that was supposed to be there, supposed to happen. None of this crazy heart-quickening, can’t be in the same room without saying something stupid, fourteen year old with a crush kind of bullshit. Hell, Jon wasn’t this uncool when he was fourteen.

He tries to keep some distance, but every time he does Spencer sidles up into his space with his stupid beautiful smile and friendly questions about his cat and a new cookie recipe that he just had to try out and Jon just has to taste. Jon takes a cookie and it’s sweet and chewy and cooked to perfection, and he wants to cry because Spencer Smith is just too good to be real.

Jon thinks he can get some space when he goes back to the place he shares with Tom and Dylan, but somehow Spencer finds his home address (Patrick, the traitor, just laughs and laughs when Jon accuses him of it) and starts showing up with invitations to movies and suggestions for Sunday brunch that are impossible to refuse. Jon has taken to using his cane even when he doesn’t need it, just to have something to hold onto when his Benedict Arnold hands want to creep up Spencer’s arms and rest in the swell of his collarbone.

Spencer, somehow, doesn’t seem to catch on that Jon is spazzing like a teenager around him. Just as Butch and Patrick have agreed that, if Jon’s happy with it, they can send the mix of the album to master and Jon thinks he’ll get some relief from the arrhythmia Spencer Smith is giving him, there’s a knock at his door at ten in the morning and there’s Spencer, standing with a duffel bag and a pillow and tired eyes, looking for all the world like a kid coming back from a sleepover.

“Spencer?” he says, fumbling at the door.

“Hi Jon,” Spencer says with a weak smile. “The water main burst at the house the label rented for us, and Brendon and Ryan and Alicia are all out at the hotel, but I just couldn’t face another cream-coloured hallway and sepia-toned bedroom. I, uh,” Spencer huffs out a laugh. “I guess I thought I could come here, but I just realized you were probably asleep and I’m sorry to interrupt you, I can just go–”

“Wait,” Jon says automatically, even as he curses his impulsive brain. He waves Spencer in, who slumps through the door gratefully. “Of course you can stay here. Tom’s on tour, so there’s a spare bed. C’mon, you look like you need the rest.”

“There’s nothing like a very wet wake-up call at seven AM,” Spencer says wryly, and crashes immediately when Jon points him at Tom’s bed.

Jon closes the door quietly, and as soon as the click of the latch goes, his freaking out ramps up to full speed. “Fuck, fuck, oh fuck,” he mutters quietly and digs his phone out of the pocket of the jeans he wore yesterday. He hits three on the speed dial, and as soon as Nick picks up the phone he says, “Spencer Smith is sleeping in my house.”

“So you finally grew some balls then?” Nick says idly around a mouthful of something crunchy.

“Fuck you too, the water main broke at his house and he came here instead of going to a hotel,” Jon says, picking at an errant thread on his pajama pants.

Jon wants to throw the phone across the room when Nick starts laughing, but he just curses Nick’s lineage instead.

“Hey, hey, my grandmother did not do that!” Nick protests.

“That’s what she said,” Jon mutters darkly.

“Jon,” Nick says seriously, “Spencer Smith is all you’ve been able to talk about for pretty much the entire time you have known him. I’m ready to pass him a note in school that says ‘Check Yes Or No,’ and you know my feelings on ticky boxes.”

“I just–” Jon falters. The line is quiet for a moment apart from the sound of their breathing, and Jon says, “I like him too much too fast.”

“He’s not Cassie,” Nick points out. “And even that wasn’t bad, as far as relationships go. You wanted different things. Suck it up, you’re a grown-up and that’s called maturity. Welcome to it.”

If Jon didn’t like Nick so much, he’d want to punch him. Or at least rough him up a little. Jon was a surfer. He needed to find his zen.

“What if he doesn’t like me back?” Jon asks, wincing at just how much of a teen soap opera his life has become.

“Jon,” Nick says slowly, as if he was schooling a young child. “He showed up at your house instead of going to a hotel. I think we can safely interpret his actions as the mating dance of the hot Nevadan drummer.”

“Your children are going to be ugly,” Jon says.

“And I can still beat your ass at Wii Tennis, so suck it and let me go back to making you money, please. If you call me again today I’m going to hang up because I don’t want to hear your pining over the phone. It’s making my Sidekick emo.” Nick ends the call and Jon makes a frustrated noise.

He wanders around his apartment thinking about Spencer sleeping in the other room until his mind has run wild enough to make him tired again. He curls up in his bed and pretends he can hear Spencer breathing through the walls of the apartment, and he goes to sleep thinking of waves lapping against the shore.

When he wakes up, it’s to the smell of pancakes, and Jon groans and stuffs a pillow over his head. Spencer is just too fucking perfect. There’s a quiet knock at his door and Jon peeks out from his bed. Spencer’s silhouetted against the door and Jon wishes he had his camera in his hand right at this moment to capture the chiaroscuro lines of Spencer’s face.

“Jon?” Spencer says quietly. “I know you don’t have to be at the studio today, but I need to show up in about an hour. I made pancakes and coffee if you want some.”

“Coffee?” Jon says, perking up a little more, and is rewarded with a blinding Spencer smile.

“Yeah,” he says. “I used some of the Muan Jai in the glass container, I hope that was okay.”

“Marry me,” he says fervently, and then winces hard. In the light from the hallway Jon can see the flush creep abruptly up Spencer’s neck, even as Spencer makes to back out of Jon’s room. “Hey,” Jon says, and Spencer stops but doesn’t look at him.

Jon climbs out of bed, his heart beating fast, and walks up to Spencer who hasn’t moved from the doorway. “Hey,” Jon says again, this time a little shaky. His hand touches Spencer’s skin where the sleeve of his t-shirt starts and Spencer twitches but then moves into the touch until it becomes something like a caress. Spencer’s hand comes up to rest against Jon’s neck, and Jon’s never felt this nervous, this anxious, over a kiss that he’s almost sure is about to happen.

Spencer leans down and Jon pushes up on his toes, ignoring the slight protest from his hip, and their mouths touch, hot and wet. Spencer tastes of coffee, and maybe blueberries, and Jon threads his fingers through Spencer’s hair to bring him even closer.

They make out there against the door frame to Jon’s bedroom until the kiss ends and they’re breathing hard against each other’s mouths.

“Morning breath,” Jon says, his eyes widening slightly, and Spencer just laughs and laughs.


They have almost no time together because once Jon’s album goes to master he has to be back on the road again, starting the promotion Nick and the label have set up for him. Spencer is still staying in Chicago for as long as it takes to work on Panic’s record, which might be awhile seeing as Ryan has only been happy with two songs they’ve worked on thus far.

Jon pushes Nick to give him more time, and Nick, in a good mood because Jon is finally getting laid again and therefore less of an annoyance to him, pushes a few days around to make some time happen. They end up with almost ten days, nine and a half really, and every night that Spencer comes home to Jon they touch like they won’t have tomorrow.

Spencer has instituted a no-pants policy when they’re both in the apartment, which works well for Jon. Jon maps every inch of Spencer’s skin, twice, and learns every way to pull the breathy moans and high-pitched pants out of Spencer that he’s come to crave. In turn, Spencer hauls him close all the time, even when they’re not fucking, and while Jon still retains a lot of the upper body-strength he had when he was surfing pro, Spencer is solid. Jon kind of likes being maneouvred around to curl up against Spencer, and the low hum of satisfaction Spencer makes at having Jon close is more than worth it.

Jon can’t go to the studio anymore either. The one time he did, he and Spencer ended up fucking in a broom closet while both their phones buzzed again and again from furious text messages demanding they come out now. The irony was not lost on either of them, and they were laughing even as they were coming. Still, Brendon demands Jon’s presence, so they all go out for dinner one night. Jon and Spencer hold hands beneath the table.

“And you should have seen him,” Brendon crows. “Oh my god, Jon Walker, he baked cookies for you!”

“Shut it, Brendon,” Spencer snaps, his face going red.

“Oh, Jon,” Ryan says, eyes gleaming, “Spencer Smith has got it so bad for you. He even wrote in his diary about your true love.”

Over Spencer’s squawks and protests Alicia just grins and says, “He wants to get you a promise ring and take you to the school dance, Jon, are you cool with that? I know he’s not the prom king, but rumour has it he’s one of the cool kids.”

Jon just smiles and kisses Spencer’s blushed cheek, and resolves to never, ever let Nick Scimeca near these people.

Their last day is a half day, and Spencer can go in late because he convinced Madeleine to do harmony tracking today instead of percussion. Jon’s bags are packed to go join Empires on their tour with The Lucksmiths, and the car for the airport is coming in an hour. Jon’s supposed to meet the tour manager out in Phoenix; there’s too much for Nick to do to travel with him anymore.

Jon and Spencer are curled up in bed, fully clothed, with the comforter over their heads. Jon is running fingers over Spencer’s face, memorizing the lines, and Spencer’s blue-eyed gaze is trained on him. This is going to fucking hurt, Jon thinks. This is going to fucking hurt a lot.

“Four months,” Jon repeats, and Spencer shifts; they’ve both heard it before. Four months of touring for Jon, four months in the studio for Spencer. Four months, and they can have some time together before Panic at the Disco start their promotion in earnest.

“Four months,” Spencer says, his hands tightening on Jon’s hips.

“You’re going to come out to see me on tour,” he reminds Spencer. “And I’m going to come home to Chicago.”

“Four months,” Spencer says again, closing his eyes against the words.

Jon pushes up to Spencer, kissing him hard. “Come to Hawai’i with me,” he says, feeling the words fall against Spencer’s wet lips.

“Yes,” Spencer says, and then their words are lost in the motions of their bodies.


Being back on tour is kind of a relief, because at least he’s busy enough that he doesn’t think of Spencer constantly. He and Empires are sharing a set, opening for the first US tour of The Lucksmiths, doing a combination of Jon’s tracks and Empires tracks. It’s fun, but it’s work, trying to tweak their sounds together into something that sounds smooth and practiced.

Spencer calls every day right before he goes into the studio, before Jon has soundcheck, and they talk about big things, life-changing things, and the minutiae of the previous day. Jon didn’t think it was possible to miss someone like this; now he understands Cassie more, and has a little more regret.

Jon and Tom wander around taking pictures, talking and not talking and everything in between. Tom puts up with a lot of Jon’s thoughts about Spencer, letting Jon ramble and offering his own thoughts every once in awhile. They talk about Tom’s relationship with a dude from his band, and how hard it was when they broke up; and Jon tries to be delicate about Cassie, because he and Tom might have been friends longer, but Cassie and Tom definitely have a strong relationship.

They’re in a field in Oklahoma when Tom asks, out of the blue, “Do you ever think about surfing?”

Jon answers without hesitation, “Every single day.”

The look Tom gives him is unreadable. “So why haven’t you gone back out there, dude? If you miss it that much, you must be hurting for it.”

This time Jon hesitates, running his hand over the high stalks of grass like it’s salt water parting beneath his fingers. “They said I could probably try again, if I wanted to,” he says. “I mean, I can’t compete, and I probably won’t have the reflexes to do hardcore waves now. But I could surf.”

Tom waits for him to continue, the soft click of the shutter his only response.

“I’m taking Spencer out to Hawai’i,” Jon says, taking a shot of a flock of birds littering the sky. “Maybe I’ll show him how to ride a board,” Jon continues carefully, holding Tom’s gaze when it’s trained on him.

Touring is good, but it’s hard, and the weeks go by both agonizingly slow and far too fast. Jon’s album drops in the middle of it, and it places well enough in the charts that the label is talking about a headlining tour when he’s finished with this one. In the flood of congratulatory calls, an unexpected one comes. He answers Cassie’s call quickly and with a surprised hello.

They talk about the album and the gallery and Tom, and finally Cassie gets to what Jon suspects was her point in calling when she says, quietly, “Tom says you’ve found someone new.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Jon says, and he’s not sure why he’s feels like he’s apologizing when she broke up with him.

“Jon, just–” Cassie says, stopping for a moment before going on. “It’s good. I think it’s good. Just, make sure he’s good to you, okay?”

“Okay,” Jon says, because there’s nothing else he could say. It’s a blessing of sorts, but it’s not one he thought he needed until it was given.

They’re finally close to four months and Spencer is talking about what clothes he should bring. Jon suggests nothing–does Spencer really think he’s going to be wearing clothes that often?–but Spencer just talks over him about SPF 90 and drinking water regularly. The schedules they’re on don’t match up perfectly, so Jon’s flying out of Chicago to Honolulu by himself.

It’s weird, doing this. He hasn’t been back to Hawai’i in nearly two years, hasn’t left the country either. He’s barely touched down on either coast, but especially the West; some part of him not wanting to hook up with his friends there and see what he’s been missing. The plane is direct and nine hours long, but it’s not too bad; he’s learned how to sit, how to live with twinges even if there’s not major pain anymore.

Jon’s drowsy with the sleep aid he took, smiling at the flight attendant when she hands him some pretzels. He falls asleep and wakes up when they’re over the Pacific, no more than an hour or two from home and the blinding expanse of blue rolls beneath them. He remembers, suddenly, the first time he saw this, watching with wide eyes while Bill poked him in the arm for his Gameboy. His eyes are trained on the ocean below and he misses it, misses the water, suddenly and violently.

By the time the plane lands he’s twitchy and eager to get out of there. He hasn’t brought much–they only have a few weeks before Spencer has to go out on the road himself, and there’s a tour with Jon’s name all over it starting out of Los Angeles when he gets back. Jon doesn’t anticipate wearing much more than board shorts the entire time he’s here, anyway. It’s quieter because tourist season has just finished, but there are always tourists in O’ahu, so that just means there are less of them.

He rents a car and drives out to Ben’s place, who’s letting them use it because he’s out on a skateboarding circuit. Jon navigates the highways and the unpaved local roads with a memory that surprises him a little. Ben lives on the edge of the North Shore, just where it tips upward, as far away from the city as he can get and still afford it. They’re not quite on the beach, but it’s just a bunch of trees between Ben’s house and the ocean and there’s a pretty view anyway. He lets himself in with a key Ben has casually hidden under a mound of flip-flops, and it looks the same, only clean.

Jon’s not there for an hour before there’s someone pulling in the drive. He figures it’s someone Ben knows that doesn’t realize he’s out, or is there to maintain the property or something, but when he goes out to see there’s a familiar ’61 Impala with a sparkling blue paint job parking in the drive.

“That car looks a lot nicer than the last time I saw it,” Jon observes as Anne Marie gets out of the car.

She grins and pulls her hair out of its twist. “It’s got sentimental value, so we got it restored.” She walks up to him and throws her arm around his neck, still taller than he is, and thinner, too. “Welcome home, Jon.”

“Damn, coconut wireless travels fast,” he says into her shoulder. “I didn’t know you’d be home, thought you’d be out on tour.”

He feels her shrug. “We’re taking a little break to let Eden work on her business. Penny’s back from college right now, too, so it seemed right to have the family home.”

They go inside to grab a couple of beers that Ben has thoughtfully (or forgetfully) left in the fridge before heading out to the sand. Jon’s breath catches when he sees it, finally; he’s been hearing the waves since he drove around the island, but he’s been trying to stay deaf to it. It’s something else entirely to see his water right there, in front of him, and something in his chest tightens and eases suddenly.

He feels Anne Marie watching him curiously, and she pulls the bottle from his hand and tugs him close. “Hey, hey, Jonathan Walker,” she whispers between the low crash of the waves, “you were always supposed to come back. We kept waiting for you to, but you found something you liked out there on the mainland, didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” he says roughly. “I didn’t want to.”

She laughs in his ear, and he closes his eyes at the remembered sound. “That’s okay, kolohe,” she teases. “You’re allowed to fall in love with something else. Just as long as you come back. Don’t leave us behind, Jon, we told you not to.”

He nods, wiping the water from his eyes and curling an arm around Anne Marie. “Someone,” he says. “It wasn’t just the music. I found someone.”

Jon feels her curiosity in the way her body shifts, and he laughs a little, because if he could see her face he knows her eyes, one blue and one hazel, would be wide and trained on him. As it is, she only says, “Yeah?”

“His name’s Spencer,” Jon says, pulling away to look at her. “He’s coming out here tomorrow.”

Anne Marie considers that, considers him, and then her hand takes his and squeezes tightly. “So you finally brought someone home,” she says with just a little wicked in her voice. “You stopped being a manwhore and brought someone for the family to meet?”

“Hey!” he protests. “I was never a manwhore. I was just an…appreciator. Of people.”

“Manwhore!” she laughs, right in his ear. “And everybody knew it, too.”

“Shut up!” he says, punching her lightly in the shoulder. “Anyway. It hasn’t been like that for awhile. Ever since–you know. There was someone else, someone else serious, before Spencer, but that didn’t work out. And now there’s Spencer, and he’s…”

“Important,” she finishes. “You know this means the girls are going to have to meet him.”

He groans a little, but this is more than he expected, really. Coming back is better than he expected. He won’t complain too much. At least, not unless Penny starts grilling him on his sex life again.

They’re quiet for a minute, just drinking and watching the waves roll in, when Anne Marie stands and pulls off her shirt to reveal the swimsuit beneath. “C’mon,” she says, and he stands too, pulling off his shirt, glad he changed to shorts as soon as he made it to Ben’s. She starts to run, but slows down when she sees he’s trotting behind her. She takes his hand, and they look at each other for one reckless moment before shouting “Banzai!” and throwing themselves into the waves.


That night he goes to dinner at his parents’, and they are thrilled to have him home. They offer again to have Spencer and him stay there, but Jon just thanks them and changes topic. Dinner is lively, even though it’s just the three of them and the cats, and they make coffee and take it out to the balcony, watching the waves roll in. It’s hard to believe that when he sat here a couple years ago all he felt was negative. It’s so far from where he is now that he can’t even see that person anymore.

They talk about Mike’s new girlfriend in Chicago and grill Jon on what she’s like, even though he hasn’t met her yet; they talk about Bill and Callie’s new baby on the way. His parents are all smiles, happy that their boys are happy, happy that life is good. When things get a little quiet, his mother gets up to take the coffee pot in and kisses the top of Jon’s head as she goes. His dad looks over at Jon, lays a hand on his arm, and says, “Jonny, we’re so proud of you, you know.”

Jon smiles and says, “Thanks, Dad.”

His dad squeezes his arm a little, pats it. “We were worried about you, not sure if it was the right this to do to send you to your grandfather. But we’re so happy for you, so proud for you. I thought–we weren’t sure you’d find something else, but your music is wonderful and you’re so good at it.”

His mother walks in and sits on the arm of his chair, putting an arm around his shoulders. “We love you, honey.”

“I love you guys, too,” Jon says, and they sit there in warm night air, together.

He sleeps in his old room, and the next morning his phone goes off, reminding him that he needs to go pick up Spencer at the airport. He takes a shower, puts on the blue shirt Spencer likes, and gratefully accepts the coffee travel mug and toast his dad has waiting for him. Traffic sucks, but he still gets there early enough to park and make it to baggage claim before Spencer does.

He watches the arrival doors like a hawk, cataloguing each person that walks through as “not-Spencer, not-Spencer, not-Spencer.” When his brain registers “Spencer” he doesn’t realize it for a second, but then he starts and smiles and walks to where Spencer is looking a little unkempt and a little stressed out.

“Hey there gorgeous,” Jon says, and Spencer’s annoyed glance sets on Jon and immediately melts into a matching smile. “Jon,” Spencer breathes, and he drops everything he’s carrying and throws his arms around him.

“I’m so happy to see you,” Jon says, tightening his arms around Spencer. Spencer doesn’t say anything, just crushes him close, and when they finally pull apart they’re both grinning like fools.

“C’mon,” Jon says. “Let’s get your bag.”

The wait for the baggage carousel seems endless, but Jon spends it running his eyes over every stretch of skin Spencer is showing and remembering the rest he has hidden away. Their fingers are tangled, and Jon looks down at Spencer’s toes, hooking his leg behind Spencer’s so their feet are side by side. “I missed you,” Spencer mumbles into their hands, and Jon knows he looks like an idiot with how he can’t stop smiling; but he’s home and Spencer’s here with him and he can’t imagine a more perfect possible universe.

They finally get Spencer’s bag and go out to the car, and as soon as the doors close Jon is all over Spencer, kissing him hard and hungry. Spencer matches him, pulling him over the gearshift like he weighs nothing and practically plopping Jon in his lap. They make out like teenagers in the shadowed parking lot, and they’re laughing because it’s so silly, silly and amazing.

Somehow they manage to stop long enough for Jon to get back into the driver’s seat and start the car, but he keeps looking over at the seat next to him, distracted by the pretty flush of Spencer’s skin, the way he’s obviously just cut his hair. He’s wearing a white t-shirt he stole from Jon back in Chicago, and it’s a little too small for him, tight and bite-worthy across his chest. They hold hands across the gearshaft, and Jon marvels at the way Spencer makes him feel–the way Spencer makes him feel everything.

“You know, everyone can’t wait to meet you,” Jon says, stealing a glance as he drives through mid-day O’ahu traffic.

Spencer looks back, and maybe there’s a little panic there but he hides it well. “Yeah?” he says. “I’m looking forward to the people that put out Jon Walker, myself.”

Jon smiles, and tightens his fingers with Spencer’s. Spencer tightens his back.

His parents love Spencer, and his mother keeps looking over at him with suspiciously wet eyes. He knows they were disappointed that things didn’t work out with Cassie, but it’s mostly because they were worried he’d never settle down. Spencer is polite and intelligent and his mother’s eyes go back and forth between Spencer and Jon with something very much like approval. His dad claps Spencer on the shoulder and promises to take him fishing, and when Spencer looks over at him with a look that clearly says “I do not like fishing but I want your father to like me” Jon comes up to him and whispers in his ear, “When we get home I’m going to fuck you so hard you’ll want to sit down and wait for the fish to come to you,” the combined arousal and betrayal in Spencer’s eyes makes Jon laugh the rest of the night.

They spend their days in Ben’s house, eating and sleeping and fucking, walking on the beach at sunset and curled up with each other nearly all of the time. They go for drives, Jon showing Spencer all of his haunts when they were kids, all the places he caused trouble. He points out his favorite spots to surf, tells wild stories about Waimea Bay and the stupid tricks he pulled when he was a teenager. Spencer listens to all of this, asking questions and watching Jon more than looking out the window.

Finally the threatening calls from Anne Marie mean that he’s duty bound to go over there for dinner, and they all take to Spencer like he was there all along. Jon knows Spencer thinks he has to impress these girls, Jon’s friends, even more than Jon’s family, and Jon tries to tell him that it will be fine; but Spencer has that determined glint in his eyes meaning that he will succeed at this, no matter what.

It doesn’t take much, though. Jon and Lena share smiles, and she whispers in Jon’s ear, “Well, you sure picked a hot one, didn’t you Jon Walker?” that tells Jon she likes him. Penny is more interested in Spencer’s band than anything else, and Anne Marie and Eden are all smiles and open questions.

They gorge themselves on pizza and are groaning at their full stomachs on the couches outside. Anne Marie’s house hasn’t changed much over the years; Jon knows she’d rather put her money into Penny’s education and Eden’s business than fixing up the property. Jon tugs Spencer to him, carding his fingers through Spencer’s hair, and opposite them Anne Marie and Eden are curled up together with the easy familiarity of the lifetime they’ve shared. Lena and Penny have headed out to a house party the rest of them have begged off, and it’s quiet save for the music from the radio drifting in from the kitchen.

“Hey, Jon,” Eden says drowsily. “I’ve got something for you.”

“Yeah?” Jon says, looking up from where he was studying the sleepy downward sweep of Spencer’s lashes. He remembers the word ‘besotted,’ suddenly. It feels like it fits. “What is it?”

“Lemme show you,” she says, and they get up and go out to Eden’s workshop. She has a better one, a real custom-build shop up in town now, but she still bangs out projects at home first. Jon runs his hands over the boards, spotting the line of shortboards that are obviously Anne Marie’s, in the same uniform red-edged orange with the sharp nose. Eden pushes things aside and finally comes out with a dark ocean blue longboard, purple flecks visible in the paint. At nine feet with a clean, balanced nose, it was like the boards he used to use, only better.

“Eden,” he says, voice catching on the words. He takes the board from her hands and runs his own along the finish. It has a tri-fin design, and when he hefts it up there’s an amazing weight and agility to it. He’s more than impressed at how her shaping skills have matured.

“Your mom said all your boards were still out in the garage,” Eden says almost diffidently. “And you always talked about a board like this.”

Anne Marie smiles. “I picked out the colour. I remember you liked blue.”

“It’s beautiful,” Spencer says, watching Jon’s face from where he’s leaning against the door, arms crossed.

“Yeah,” Jon says, fingers splayed on the board. “It is.”

Jon thanks Eden, hugs her close and miraculously she lets him. She and Anne Marie go to clean up from dinner, leaving Jon and Spencer out in the workshop. Jon can’t take his eyes off this board. It’s like everything he ever wanted when he was still surfing pro, something to let him catch more than the one good wave that would carry him through competition.

Spencer moves from his place at the door, comes over and crowds into Jon’s space. He hooks his chin over Jon’s shoulder, ducking down a little bit so their sight-line is the same. It’s like he’s trying to see what Jon sees.

“See how it’s convex,” Jon finds himself saying, “right here, how it would give just a little splicing if you were in the water? The way I stand–the way I stood,” he corrects himself, “that would have given me just a little edge to cut down into my turns.” He feels Spencer nod against his shoulder.

“And the fins, they’re removable,” Jon says. “So you can take them away, or just use one, depending on what the water’s like.”

“And the top part, is it pointed like that so you can cut through the water?” Spencer asks.

“Yeah,” Jon nods. “I like the nose just a little rounded, so I can curl my toes over it when I’m just hanging ten.”

He leans back into Spencer’s weight, letting the board rest against the worktable. He can’t believe Eden did this for him.

“Teach me how,” Spencer says, kissing up Jon’s neck, tugging the skin between his teeth in a love-bite or two. “Teach me how to surf.”

“Okay,” Jon says, turning to bring Spencer to him in a kiss.


Jon borrows a couple of longboards from Eden and takes Spencer to a spot mostly frequented by the locals. He doesn’t think he’s going to have a problem with the grommies, though; he may be a haole but the North Shore still claimed him when he went pro. It’s a beautiful day, and even though it’s only just past August the swells have picked up a little. It’s a good place to begin, with strong enough waves and only a little whitewater.

Spencer listens carefully and attentively as Jon explains the rudiments of surfing; what his body needs to do, what he needs to be aware of. Jon is thorough, because going through all of this is quieting the anxious voice in his head screaming that he hasn’t done this in two years, hasn’t done this since his hip. If he can concentrate on Spencer, on teaching Spencer, then maybe he can get out on the water without freaking himself out too bad.

They start slow, just paddling through, and it feels so strange to be back in the water like this. Jon’s still strong, but it’s maintained from different things now. His body remembers the motions, though, remembers what he’s supposed to do, and he watches Spencer push out next to him instead of thinking about it.

They get out far enough and just concentrate on floatation; when Spencer gets comfortable with that, they try a couple of baby waves, little swells that he wipes out on, but not too badly. Spencer is working at this, but he has a little inclination for it, despite being a desert kid.

Soon enough he has Spencer pushing up and getting a pretty decent stance going. Spencer is riding waves for long seconds at a time, and he’s hollering and laughing when he gets it right. He paddles back out to Jon, who’s straddled over his board, and grins. “That’s amazing,” Spencer says. “Holy crap, did you see me? I stayed up really long this time!”

“Yeah,” Jon laughs. “I saw you. I couldn’t take my eyes off you.”

Spencer’s eyes turn hot. “Oh yeah?”

“Your skin is blinding in the sun,” Jon informs him. “Didn’t you ever go outside in Vegas?”

“Shut up!” Spencer protests, playfully pushing at Jon. “Not all of us can be tan surf gods, you know. Some of us are happy being pasty rock stars.”

Jon grins into Spencer’s mouth, kissing him.

“Hey,” Spencer says. “You do one now. Show me how it’s done.”

Jon can feel his face contort in some indescribable way. “Um,” he says.

“Go on, Jon,” Spencer says, suddenly turned serious. “I want to see.”

Jon suspects that Spencer would have been happy if he’d never gotten on a surfboard, that this whole thing was for other reasons entirely. But he can’t fault Spencer for it. Instead he just nods, kisses Spencer again and paddles out further to where the swells are a little bigger.

They’re coming in sets of four, peaking on the last wave before a short pause and another set. He goes up through the last couple, and pearls through another before watching the horizon for a good one. His heart is hammering in his ear, but the worst thing that could happen is he falls off the board. The waves aren’t strong enough to shove him down to the reef-coral, he can’t hurt himself too badly, unless his hip gives out, unless he bangs his head on his board, unless, unless. He’s trying not to let these thoughts overpower him, but it’s hard when the only other noise is the rush of the waves surrounding him. He pearls again, and then the last wave of this set is in front of him, and it’s a beauty.

He forces himself around and paddles hard, letting the wave curl up under him, pushing him up so that his body, more used to this than he expects it to be, knows to let the force lift him up and into his stance. He crouches down low, goofy foot, but he feels a pressure in his hip and his body auto-corrects to regular foot, cleanly, smoothly. He’s balanced and flying and he can feel the spray hit his skin and the sun hit his shoulders and he feels so alive, exhilarated, that as the wave peters out he’s filled with the longing to go back and do it again.

He doesn’t, though, just pants through the exertion it takes to collapse back onto his board and paddle back the opposite direction, back to Spencer, whose eyes have been trained on him since he went out there.

“Jon,” Spencer says, “Jesus Christ, Jon, that was amazing. You didn’t tell me that you’d been surfing again.”

“I haven’t been,” Jon says, his mouth dry and tacky with salt. “I haven’t been.”

Spencer makes a surprised noise, but hugs him close and kisses him. “Wow,” he says.

“Yeah,” Jon says, a kind of choked laughter coming out of him.

When the sun sets, they’re still out on the water, lying back on their longboards and letting the waves lift them up and down.

The water dries on their skin, and their hands are clasped between them, trailing in the ocean.

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