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A Million Ways To Fall - Pt. IX

                In Brendon’s experience, life went to shit in one of two ways.  It was either a gradual slip-slide into it or it was like a car crash.  Brent, that had been a slip-slide, painfully sluggish and impossible to reverse.  They’d all watched it happen and they hadn’t been able to do a damn thing about it.  Brendon felt bad, occasionally, over the fact that he didn’t actually feel bad at all.  The stress and the fear and the horrible feeling of losing a friend forever had been worth it in the end.  It had brought them Jon. 

                Still, it was horrible to look back on and remember the helplessness that had stretched over the course of whole months while they watched everything fall apart.

                Getting pregnant was more like a car crash, unexpected and disorienting.  It had come out of nowhere, really, slamming into Brendon’s blindside and catapulting his life into a state of chaos.  He was adjusting, but it was still difficult.

                Brendon figured, after finding out he was pregnant, there wasn’t much else that could happen to make it worse.  No more car crashes, at least not for a while.  He was wrong.  Of course he was wrong because if there was one other thing about life that he knew, it was that whenever something bad could happen, it did.

                He was fighting off the sudden urge to alphabetize his dvd collection (definitely nesting, he thought, watching Dylan gnaw on a new bone) when someone started pounding on the door.  He was off the couch and at the door in less than a minute, but Spencer was apparently feeling particularly impatient that day because he started yelling Brendon’s name before he could get the door yanked open.

                “What the fuck?” Brendon asked, eyeing Spencer and, behind him, Ryan and Jon.  “Not that I don’t love when you pound on my door but-”

                “Are you gonna let us in?” Spencer demanded.

                Brendon frowned and stepped aside so they could walk in.  He didn’t know what was up.  He’d planned to go to over to Ryan’s to spend some quality time with him and Jon later, but it wasn’t even noon yet.  Usually surprise visits were a good thing, but Brendon was a little freaked out by the looks on their faces and he was pretty sure this wasn’t the usual kind of surprise visit.

                “Where’s Shane?” Jon asked, his voice deceptively steady.

                Brendon shrugged.  “On his way back from that shoot in LA.  What’s going on?  You’re acting really weird.”

                The three of them stood just inside the apartment, shoulder to shoulder, and stared at Brendon.  It was beginning to feel a little like a horror movie or something when Ryan’s face softened and he looked away.

                “It got out,” he said quietly, and at first Brendon didn’t know what he was talking about.

                He glanced at Spencer and Jon for answers.  Spencer’s face was carefully devoid of any telling emotion, but Jon’s jaw was clenched and he looked like he wanted to start hitting things.  That was how Brendon figured it out, that when Ryan said “it” he meant “you”.  Brendon was out.  Brendon’s pregnancy was out.

                “Okay,” Brendon said slowly, “but nobody believes it, right?  It’s just a rumor or something.”

                Jon shook his head tightly.  “Your home movies leaked,” he said.  “All that shit Shane filmed?  It’s all over fucking youtube.  He fucking sold you out.”

                “He wouldn’t do that,” Brendon said, and he was proud of himself for keeping his voice from shaking.  “We know him.  He wouldn’t.”

                “Maybe we don’t know him as well as we thought,” Ryan shot back, and he had that look on his face, the one that said he didn’t want to believe what was happening, that his faith in the world had been shattered yet again.  The one that he thought made him look resigned and jaded, but just emphasized the hurt.

                “We’re not here to fight about Shane,” Spencer said, “we just need to think about damage control at this point.”

                “How bad is it?” Brendon asked.

                Spencer and Jon shared a look.  “Pretty bad,” Jon answered.

                He wasn’t kidding.  They were violently opposed to the idea of Brendon getting online and seeing for himself, but he needed to know what he was up against.  It was all over the internet, links to videos, pictures, blurbs on major websites with quotes from doctors who called it a ‘hoax’ and eyewitnesses who claimed it was all true.  The rumors were flying around, everything from Ryan being the baby’s daddy to Brendon having been a post-op transsexual this whole time which would explain away his alleged girlparts. 

                Brendon was pretty comforted by the fact that it was split 50/50 as to who believed it and who didn’t, but that didn’t change the fact that now that it was out there, the proof in the videos, they were going to have to do something about it. 

                “Are you okay?” Ryan asked.

                Brendon blinked and realized he’d been staring at his laptop’s screen for so long it had gone dim.  He closed it with a shrug.  He was feeling pretty calm about it.  Or maybe he was feeling numb.  He couldn’t tell.

                “Did somebody call Pete?” he asked.

                Ryan shook his head.  “I’ve got, like, a hundred voicemails, though.”

                “And Zack’s been calling me nonstop for the last twenty minutes,” Spencer added. 

                “Tom texted me earlier to ask why the fuck I didn’t tell him,” Jon said.  “I’m guessing Nick talked to Pete who confirmed it.”

                Brendon nodded slowly and bit his lip.  “We should talk to Pete.  And figure something out.”

                Spencer, Jon and Ryan were quiet.  When he glanced up, they were staring at each other, communicating silently between the three of them.

                “Look,” Spencer finally said, reaching out to squeeze Brendon’s knee, “you don’t have to do anything, okay?  We can always rent the cabin again, head out there for the next three months, let this blow over and see what happens.”

                “We just don’t want you to stress yourself out again,” Ryan added.

                Brendon looked between all of them and shook his head slowly.  “I can’t run from this,” he said, even though he really wanted to.

                “It wouldn’t be running,” Jon said, but it was more of a courtesy than anything. 

                Brendon shook his head again.  “Let’s call Pete, figure out our options.”

 

_._

 

                Pete was angry, but it was more or less balanced out by a shift into professional mode.  He promised them that he’d be in Vegas in a few short hours and mentioned something about making some calls and doing what little damage control he could.

                “I hate to say it,” he added before hanging up, “but the only way to head this one off at the pass might be to make a public statement.”

                Brendon felt sick at the thought, but he also knew that it would probably be better to confirm some things instead of letting the rumor mill and Perez Hilton be in control of the details.  He called Dr. Pierson and Theresa after Pete hung up, just to give them a heads up, and they told him that if he needed to make a statement, they would be willing to help him out with clearing up some of the medical questions that would definitely need answering.

                After that, it felt like the four of them were on the phone for hours with different friends and friends of friends and label-mates and whoever else was calling to see what the fuck was going on, was Brendon really pregnant, was that even possible?  They talked to some of the people who had already known; all of them offered support and solidarity and said they’d be there for Brendon however they were needed.  The sentiment was more than appreciated, and Brendon knew they weren’t exaggerating, but aside from making him feel a little better it didn’t really help.

                The whole time that Brendon was fielding calls and fending off an impending panic-attack, he couldn’t stop himself from watching the door like a hawk, waiting for Shane to come home and explain the situation and make everything make sense again.  He didn’t.  Cash showed up, Ian in tow, and they hung out for a little while.

                “We figured you might need some company, what with the explosion of the interweb this morning,” Cash teased, and they were a pretty good distraction during a lull in the action.

                They left well after the sun set.  Brendon walked them to the door and caught Ian’s wrist before he could leave.

                “You haven’t heard from Shane, have you?” he asked. 

                Ian caught Brendon’s eyes with his own and shook his head slowly.  “No, man.  If he calls, I will verbally beat his ass for you.”

                Brendon huffed out a laugh that was more cursory than anything and Ian sighed before pulling him into a tight hug that Cash quickly jumped in on. 

                Haley showed up late, when the phones were quiet and the blogs had been reduced to a few tired comments on earlier entries. 

                “I come bearing sustenance,” she said, brandishing grocery bags.  “Or it will be sustenance as soon as I cook it.  How are you?”

                She looked around at all of them when she asked, but her gaze stopped on Brendon, warm and concerned.  Brendon shrugged in answer and watched Spencer roll to his feet and tug Haley into the kitchen, telling her about the day they’d been having and explaining some of the more recent developments.  Jon was asleep on the floor, a pillow from the couch under one head and his sidekick resting next to one outstretched arm. 

                Brendon watched him for a moment and despite everything, he felt really fucking lucky to have his friends with him.  He also felt like crying. 

                “Hey,” Ryan said, sitting down next to Brendon and curling an arm around his shoulders, “you’re handling this pretty well.”

                Brendon shrugged and didn’t answer, just let Ryan keep him propped up for a little while.

 

_._

 

                Nobody left Brendon alone that night.  Jon and Ryan shared the couch, Spencer and Haley took Brendon’s bed, and Brendon locked himself in the master bedroom where he stared up at the ceiling above the bed he’d been sharing with Shane for almost a month, exhausted but unable to drift off. 

                His phone rang sometime in the dead of night, vibrating and lighting up on the nightstand.  Brendon took one look at the number and scrambled to answer, but he didn’t know what to say once he got the phone up to his ear.

                “Regan call you?” Shane asked, his words slurring just enough to let Brendon know he was either really drunk or really tired or maybe both.

                “A little earlier,” Brendon answered.

                She’d been worried, about Brendon and about Shane.  He’d dropped by her place, early in the day when the shit was first starting to hit the fan, but he’d left before he could explain anything to her.  According to Regs, he’d been in pretty bad shape and when Brendon had told her he’d never made it home, she’d been even more freaked out.

                “I’m so sorry,” Shane whispered harshly.  “I didn’t do it on purpose, you know that, right?  It wasn’t me.  I just, I had some of the tapes with me when I came out here and somebody got their hands on them and-”

                “It’s okay,” Brendon soothed, because he’d been waiting all day to hear from Shane, to get some kind of explanation and even though he was still a little angry and hurt and going crazy over all of this, that was all he’d needed. 

                “It’s not,” Shane said.  “It’s really not and I’m stupid, I’m so fucking stupid.  I’m sorry, Brendon.”

                Brendon opened his mouth to tell him it was going to be fine, but Shane hung up before he could.  Brendon stared down at his phone and redialed, but it went straight to voicemail.  He tried again even though he knew the result was going to be the same.

                This time he left a message: “Don’t be an asshole, Shane, just come home.”

                In the morning, Shane was still gone.  And the next.  And the next.  Until the deal they’d made on the house before all of this had happened finally went through, until Brendon couldn’t stay in the apartment by himself much longer, until Ryan showed up one afternoon with Jon and said, “why don’t you come stay with me for a while?”

 

_._

 

                Brendon got the call he’d been dreading on his first day at Ryan’s place.  He was a little surprised that it hadn’t come sooner, but then, his parents probably had no idea what to say to him.  Even the message they left on his phone was stilted and awkward, disbelief and hurt coloring their words.  He didn’t want to have to call back.  He definitely didn’t want to have to see them.  But he had to tell them and it had to be in person.

                “Maybe you can make them wait,” Ryan suggested quietly.

                Brendon was sitting on Ryan’s bed staring down at his phone.  Jon was standing in the doorway, arms crossed, and Ryan looked like he was waffling between standing protectively over Brendon and sitting next to him.

                “I think I’ve made them wait long enough,” Brendon pointed out.

                Ryan made a disgruntled sound and Jon huffed out a sigh.  They obviously weren’t too happy about the prospect of Brendon talking to his family face-to-face about this.  For the last few days they’d been doing their best to keep their stress levels from showing, all for Brendon’s sake, but this was apparently the last straw.  Brendon could see Jon’s weary but no less potent anger in the set of his shoulders, and Ryan looked completely worn out.  He felt bad about it, felt even worse that they were trying to shoulder all of this for him, but this wasn’t something he could run away from.

                Brendon picked up his phone and bit his lip.

                “This is the last thing you need to be dealing with right now,” Jon said from where he was standing.

                “Jon,” Brendon said, looking up at him.

                Jon frowned.  “I’m just saying if anything happens to you-”

                “It won’t,” Brendon interrupted.  He looked quickly over to Ryan and said, “it won’t.”

                He could tell neither of them believed him.  He wasn’t really sure if he believed himself but he kept a strong face on through a cool conversation with his dad and he tried not to let the hurt show when his parents were reluctant to agree to see him.   He would have done the same thing, he told himself.  He would have reacted the same way.

                He hung up and tried not to feel sick to his stomach.

                The next day, Ryan and Jon offered to go with him to his parents’ house, but Brendon was pretty sure he needed to do this alone.  He didn’t necessarily want to, but he didn’t want them to be there, either, for the inevitable . . . well, whatever (Brendon had an idea, he had a feeling, he just didn’t want to think it or say it or make it real before it actually happened). 

                Jon leant him an oversized and hideous sweater to hide inside and Ryan chewed his lip and didn’t say anything all morning, not until Brendon was on his way out the door.  Then he reached out to grab Brendon by the wrist and pull him into a tight hug.

                “We’ll be here,” he said into Brendon’s ear, the words low and steady despite the fact that Brendon could feel Ryan shaking (or maybe it was Brendon shaking, he couldn’t even tell).  “No matter what, we’ll be here.”

                Brendon wanted to tell him that he knew that, he wouldn’t have been able to do all of the things he’d done if he didn’t.  But he also knew, and he wondered how Ryan could possibly know, that he was afraid that one day he wouldn’t have anyone.  Not his family or his friends or his band.  Having Ryan remind him that they weren’t going anywhere made it possible for Brendon to let go and walk out the door. 

                It didn’t make it any easier to face his parents, though.  At least, Brendon thought when they opened the front door, it was just his mom and dad and not his brothers and sister and in-laws and nephews and nieces, too.  That would have been too much.  As it was, the way his mother’s eyes fell to the significant swell of his stomach, the look of horror and awe on her face, was almost enough to prompt Brendon to turn right around and pretend this had never happened.

                “Get in here,” his dad said, reaching out to tug him inside.

                He sounded pissed, which was a real role-reversal for his parents.  Mom was the one who got mad.  Dad was the one who stayed calm and reminded her that she was not allowed to kill her children.  He was the one who laughed inappropriately at whatever mischief said children had gotten into.

                He wasn’t laughing now.

                “Oh, Brendon,” Mom said in a tiny voice, still staring at his belly.  “What-” She cut herself off and pressed a hand to her mouth, finally lifting her eyes to his.  They were wet.

                “I’m sorry,” Brendon said, not exactly surprised at how breathy and scared his voice was.

                “For what?” Mom asked, honestly curious.

                Brendon opened his mouth to answer, but Dad beat him to it.  “For making such a monumental mistake,” he said before turning to Brendon.  “You’ve done some stupid things, but this is . . .” He trailed off and shook his head.

                Their disappointment was palpable, as was their confusion and their anger and their hurt.  Layered over that, thick and heavy and uncomfortable, was the fact that they were looking at Brendon like he was a stranger.  They obviously didn’t know what to say or how to react, not just to the situation but to Brendon.  It was like before only worse, and Brendon’s stomach cramped.

                “Are you keeping it?” Mom asked, squaring her shoulders and blinking rapidly.

                Brendon nodded.  “Yeah,” he said.  “I’m moving into a bigger place and everything.”

                Mom nodded and then said, “are you sure you want to do that?”  When Brendon only stared she sighed.  “I just mean you’re so young and what if . . . what if the baby isn’t healthy?  It’s not normal for you to-” She sucked in a deep breath.  “I’m just concerned.”

                Brendon could understand that, even if the words and the tone and the implication made him ache a little. 

                “I thought it through,” he said.  “I know what I’m doing.”

                Dad scoffed but didn’t say anything else and Brendon forced himself to breathe.  So far it hadn’t gone so bad, but there was still a giant elephant in the room that none of them were addressing.  He thought it was probably only a matter of time and sure enough, his dad was the one who asked.

                “Who’s the father?”

                Brendon swallowed and glanced away.  “You don’t know him,” he said.

                There was a moment of silence and then Mom said, voice deliberately steady, “well, we’d like to meet him.”

                Brendon could have laughed.  Of course his parents assumed that whoever this guy was, he and Brendon were still involved.  And instead of making it easy, instead of telling him he needed to leave and never look back, they had to make an actual effort.  It would have been okay if Brendon felt like he had anything to give them in return.  Instead he had to lift his head and find a way to tell them that he didn’t even know the father’s last name, that he had no intention of bringing him or anyone else to meet his parents anytime soon.

                “I can’t,” Brendon said.

                His mother’s face pinched in and she looked pained, regretful.  “We can’t . . . this isn’t natural, Brendon.  You’ve given in to worldly influences and that’s something you’ll have to sort out with God but you’re our son.  You’re my baby,” she said, her voice cracking over the last word.  “We’re trying,” she whispered, tears slipping over her cheeks silently.  “We’re willing to try.”

                Brendon hated seeing Mom cry.  It made his heart thump painfully against his ribs, made him want to hold her and make it better.  He didn’t think he could make this better because he couldn’t take it back.  He glanced over at Dad who was stoic and still angry and felt nauseas.

                “It’s not that,” Brendon finally said.  “I don’t see him anymore.  It was just one time.”

                Mom made a strangled sound and looked over at Dad, who was obviously shell-shocked.

                “You should have known better,” Dad said, voice barely above a whisper.

                “I know,” Brendon said, bowing his head.

                “How- who’s been taking care of you?” Mom asked.

                Brendon shrugged but couldn’t answer.  They knew.  They knew who Brendon’s second family was, knew whose hands he’d been holding for the last few years.  They knew who supported him unfailingly, who loved him unconditionally in all the ways they sometimes struggled with.  And maybe that was unfair because Brendon knew they loved him, that they could forgive him almost anything, but it wasn’t the same.

                His parents were never going to welcome a boyfriend into the family like they had everyone his siblings had dated.  They were never going to sit with him on the couch and rub his belly and talk about baby names and tell horror stories about the first twelve months like they had with the other pregnant women in the family.  It wasn’t like that with them.

                It hurt in a way that Brendon thought he’d braced himself for.  He bit his lip and told himself he wouldn’t cry.

                “I couldn’t tell you before,” Brendon said after a moment, glancing up at them.  “I’m sorry, I just . . . I couldn’t.”

                They didn’t ask why.

                “I don’t know what to do, Bren,” Dad said, and Mom was silent at his side, trying not to cry out loud.  “We don’t know what you’re expecting from us.”

                Brendon didn’t know how to tell them he’d been expecting more and less than what they’d just given him.  He straightened and shook his head.

                “I’m not expecting anything,” he told them honestly.  “I should probably go.”

                Mom looked like she wanted to stop him but she nodded once.  Dad just sighed and hesitated before walking out of the room.  Brendon watched him go and didn’t say anything.  He was a little surprised when Mom walked forward and pulled him into her arms.  She smelled warm and soft like always and Brendon wanted to cling to her and let her tell him it would be okay, everything would work out.

                “Mom,” Brendon said, and she made a soothing sound near his ear.

                “You’re so good with your nephew,” she said quietly.  “You’ll be fine, won’t you?”  She paused and then said, “you will.  You’ll be fine.”

                She pulled away, kept her hands wrapped around Brendon’s arms.  “We’re only a phonecall away.  I promise.”

                Brendon nodded and whispered, “I love you.  Tell Dad, okay?”

                She smiled weakly.  “I will.  We love you, too.”

                Leaving the house and driving home happened in a blur.  Ryan and Jon were waiting for him when he got inside.  They both looked like they’d been doing nothing but worry for the last two hours.  Brendon tried to smile reassuringly at them, but he thought he probably failed pretty miserably.  Sure enough, Jon exhaled gustily and stood up, pulling Brendon into his arms.

                He didn’t smell like Mom; he smelled like smoke and something suspiciously like cherry blossoms, but Brendon could cling to him and know he wasn’t going to let Brendon walk away without a fight.

                “Hey,” Ryan said, stepping close and brushing his fingers over Brendon’s cheek.

                He wasn’t crying, but he still felt a threatening lump in his throat.  He swallowed a couple of times.

                “It’s okay,” Brendon said softly.

                Ryan cupped the back of his head and held on and Brendon didn’t have to let go and he didn’t have to walk away, not from this. 

               

_._

 

                Jon had a tragic addiction to Mexican telenovelas.   Ryan denied sharing in the addiction, mostly because if it wasn’t French or German he liked to pretend he wasn’t interested, but he seemed pretty in-the-know about the lives of Consuela, Carlos and Carmen for someone who wasn’t at least a little obsessed.

                Brendon didn’t actually care much for them usually, but every afternoon Jon would sit him down on Ryan’s plush couch and talk him through three hours-worth of soap opera goodness.  Neither of them spoke Spanish, but it didn’t seem to matter.  Jon had a decent grasp on what was going on and what he didn’t know, he made up.  It was almost enough to take Brendon’s mind off of the downward spiral his life had hit in the last week and a half.

                “Hey,” Jon murmured during a commercial, ruffling Brendon’s hair, “you okay?”

                “Not looking forward to the interview tomorrow,” he admitted.

                “Yeah, but we’ll be there.  It’ll be fine.”

                Brendon wasn’t so sure.  Interviews were pretty touch-and-go under normal circumstances.  This definitely did not qualify as a normal circumstance.  Brendon was tempted to back out completely, but Pete had gone to the trouble of calling in a favor with his father-in-law to secure an interview with someone they could mostly trust.  It had been a week and the furor hadn’t quite died down; the only way to make things a little better would be to clear the air.

                That didn’t mean Brendon had to look forward to it.

                “I’m sorry to put you guys through this,” Brendon muttered, burrowing further into Jon’s side.

                The rumors about his bandmates were getting ridiculous.  Fans and non-fans alike were hurling around assumptions about their character that made them sound at turns saintly and cruel.  Brendon had always sort of expected that eventually his name would get dragged through the mud in some way and he was more than willing to take the fall.  This was all his own fault.  He hated that his best friends had been dragged into it, too. 

                “Whatever, dude, it’s not like we can’t handle it,” Jon said.  “Just don’t worry about it too much, okay?”

                Brendon nodded and was saved from having to reply by the end of the commercial break.  Ryan wandered in just as Carmen was declaring her love for the priest Alejandro and claiming she was pregnant with his father’s child.  At least that was what Jon and Brendon assumed was going on.  Ryan sat down on Brendon’s other side, took one look at the screen and said, “what’s that crazy bitch up to now?”

                They watched the rest of the episode in a warm pile on the couch and when the next one started, Ryan actually made a small sound of excitement and nestled further into the couch.  Brendon fell asleep halfway through while Jon and Ryan argued over whether or not the couple on screen was fighting over an affair the husband had had or on the wife’s alcoholism.  When he woke up he was alone, curled up on his side with a blanket tucked around his shoulders.  It took him a moment to pinpoint what had pulled him out of his nap. 

                The baby was moving around, which wasn’t anything new, but the hands cupped around his belly and the mouth pressed close singing a wordless lullaby was.  Brendon kept his eyes closed and listened intently to Jon’s voice.  It wasn’t a melody that Brendon recognized, but it was simple and beautiful and Jon delivered every note with care and love.  The baby rolled again and Jon’s voice hitched.

                Brendon finally blinked his eyes open and reached down to press his fingers to Jon’s.

                “Hey,” he said.

                Jon looked up with a small smile.  “Hey,” he said back.   

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