Selfish ficlet for joyfulseeker: Frank and Ray, guitar strings and humidity.

by Lesa Soja

Ray was sitting quietly at the table with his beer, minding his own business and enjoying it too, so he should have known the peace was too good to last. Footsteps behind him, and because he didn't recognize them, he knew whose they were. "Hey, Frank," he said.

"Hey, Toro," Frank said. "You got another one of those?"

"In the fridge," Ray said. "Help yourself."

He didn't turn to look, but he could hear Frank opening the fridge and levering the lid off the bottle. Then Frank came to the table and pulled out a chair, turning it to straddle it backwards and rest his arms on its top, the bottle dangling from his hand.

"So are you really okay with this?" Frank said.

Ray couldn't quite suppress a twitch. "Well, yeah," he said. "We've been looking for another guitarist forever, seems like, and we couldn't ask for a better one than you. I mean, I'm sorry your other bands broke up, I know that sucks, but it's some wicked good luck for us."

"Thanks," Frank said, and they both drank. "I don't mean the band, though," Frank went on. "I mean you."

"Oh," Ray said. If Frank was going to be that honest then he guessed he couldn't say I just told you like he kind of wanted to. He took another swallow and tried to picture it: Frank there at practice tomorrow, playing with them. Frank recording with them. Frank playing at shows. "It's probably going to be a little weird at first," Ray finally said.

"That's fair," Frank said. He looked down at his own fingers for a while. "I'm not going to try to take your parts. You know? I'm not looking to take anything away from you. It's just, I think I can add something."

"Sure," Ray said. "You and me have pretty different styles. I bet you playing our songs could really bring something new to it."

"Us playing together," Frank insisted.

Ray looked at him. Frank's fingers were twisting slightly back and forth around each other; he was genuinely nervous. Ray thought suddenly of how Pencey Prep used to rehearse every day, day after day, when Gerard would call a practice maybe once or twice a week. Ray had seen them, in the awesome practice space those guys had found and shared with them - and they had it set up so carefully, down to the hygrometer on the wall, and not a cheap one either - he'd seen them staying late often enough to know what a hardass Frank could be about going over and over a song, a riff, one single bar, until it was absolutely right. That was something Ray could respect.

He took a breath and nodded. "Us playing together. You better not be stealing my spare strings, though."

"Like I would," Frank said, grinning. "Who knows what kind of cheapass strings you use?"

"Oh, it's on now," Ray said. "Bite your tongue, Iero, you better watch yourself."

"I'll be doing that," Frank said. Then he held out his bottle, and Ray lifted his own till they clinked solidly together.