The Navigator

by Cynus

Chapter 3

"Would you get your feet off me, Theo?" Stacey yelled, shattering the stillness of the early morning drive. Brady looked up from his seat in the far back to see Theo reluctantly withdraw his feet from the center console between the driver seat and the passenger seat. Stacey glared at Theo, but he just shrugged and bowed his head again to get more sleep. Stacey grumbled and rolled over in the passenger seat, trying to get more sleep herself.

It was Jack's turn to drive again, though Brady would take his turn behind the wheel as soon as they stopped. Nearly twenty-four hours had passed since they dropped Silas off in Colorado. They'd driven for most of the time since then and were about to cross the border into Wyoming. Brady hadn't expected Drake's departure to hit him as hard as it did, but he had found it difficult to sleep knowing a friend would be struggling to find a place to sleep.

"Jackie, when are we going to stop for a bite to eat?" Brady asked as his stomach growled. "I'd like to get something before we switch over and I start driving. Keep that in mind will you when you're looking for a place to stop?"

"Braids, you worry too much. Have I ever let you down?" Jack asked with a casual laugh.

"Of course. Numerous times," Brady replied without hesitation. Jack's laughter ended abruptly and Brady felt Jack watching him through the rearview mirror. "But don't worry, Jackie, I don't hold it against you. We're like brothers, and we do that."

"So what can I do for you, Braids?" Jack asked.

"All I'm saying is that I'd like to have some real food. I'm sick of eating gas station food," Brady replied with a shrug. "I'd like to have something substantial."

Jack chuckled softly and said, "You've got it, Braids. I won't let you down this time."

"I know you won't, Jack," Brady replied, purposefully using Jack's real name.

Jack didn't miss the reference, though he didn't make any mention of it. Brady knew Jack would catch the meaning behind it, too. He would know Brady was bothered by something he wanted to discuss with Jack in private, and Jack would wait until a time when the two of them could be alone before he pressed the issue. It was their signal, one they'd used since the fourth grade when they first became friends.

Brady wasn't sure exactly what he wanted to talk about, but he knew his emotions were complicated. He kept thinking about Drake, or Silas . . . No, Silas would never be his name to Brady. Drake was a much stronger musician name, and even though Silas had only traveled with them for a few weeks he had seemed like a member of the band. Brady knew the other band members shared the sentiment.

No one had really talked about what had happened after Silas walked away. They'd simply climbed back into the van and driven off. It felt the way it always did after a performance. Silas had asked Brady about that once—the reason why Brady never spoke after a performance until he had put every piece of his equipment away. Brady had to let the music settle, to come down from the high of performing.

Jack was the front man of the band; as the singer, it only seemed natural. Theo played bass, and Stacey was the best guitarist Brady had ever known. Brady and Jack first met in the third grade, became best friends in fourth, and they met both Theo and Stacey in high school. Ironically, Theo and Stacey were dating at the time, though there'd been even more drama between them while they were dating than even now, and that was hard to beat.

When the two broke up it nearly tore the band apart, especially once Jack started dating Stacey. Things were smoothed over quickly with Brady at the center. He'd pleaded with all of them to talk it out rather than letting their beautiful partnership fall apart. They had agreed to play one more show, at the local battle of the bands, but had also agreed if they didn't take first place then the band was done.

Brady went to each one of them in private and told them how much he wanted the band to succeed, and each one of them agreed individually that they would play their best and really give it a shot. When Brady walked on that stage and made eye contact with each of them, he felt so sure of their success he didn't bother to say anything else. He could see it in their eyes that no matter how much pain they had all caused each other, they wanted the band to succeed. He shut his mouth and played his heart out, channeling all of his emotions from the few weeks before into his drumsticks.

Pure bliss followed. The performance became a release like nothing he'd ever felt before, better than even sex. He'd played harder than he ever had before, and the other band members followed his lead. When Stacey strummed the final chord and Brady hit his last beat the crowd was roaring. Brady looked at Jack, Theo, and Stacey and all three were panting like they'd just finished a race, and they looked to each other as companions who'd endured a great ordeal together. They knew then that they were inseparable, and all of the things they had been through were nothing compared to what they could accomplish if they stayed together.

That moment stood frozen in Brady's memory as strong as anything from his childhood and anything since. He could still see it. The way Theo cradled his bass like a child who'd just come out of a sickness. The way the sweat dripped off Jack's forehead and onto his hand which still held the microphone, glancing back at Brady with eyes filled with wonder. The way Stacey stood watching the crowd as if the cheering fans were angels, greeting her as she finally arrived at the gates of heaven. That moment served as Brady's definition of perfection.

After that night, the band decided that after graduation they would go on tour, and nothing would keep them from that dream. They'd toured for seven months and loving almost every minute of it, but Brady had always tried to recapture that moment; he played as hard as he could at every performance, possessed by that perfect memory. When each performance was finished he would reflect on it, let the memory go quietly as he returned to the present.

He hadn't come across another moment that felt as real until they said goodbye to Silas. That bothered him, and as soon as he realized it, he slammed his forearm against the side of the van in frustration hard enough to get Jack's attention. It wasn't enough for Jack to give him any more than a worried glance, which Brady appreciated. He would want to talk about it as soon as they were alone, but no sooner.

They'd picked Silas up after their show in Salt Lake City. Silas was walking past the small club where they'd just finished playing. He'd jumped in to help them put their stuff in the van. When they thanked him he asked for a ride. Brady saw something in Silas then, but the decision almost always rested with Jack. This time, Jack looked to Brady when Silas asked, and Brady nodded to him slightly. The entire exchange took less than a second, and though Theo grumbled about having two more bodies in the van, Silas joined the crew without a second thought from Jack.

"Brady," Jack said gently, "There's a town coming up in ten miles. Sign says they have an IHOP. Will that do?"

"Yeah," Brady sighed. "That'll do. How about we don't wake up the others and tell them we wanted to let them rest." He asked hopefully.

Jack glanced at Stacey who snored lightly in her seat. "I don't think that will be a problem. We should be able to get a half an hour or so before Theo notices we're gone."

Brady chuckled softly and looked out the window, watching the scenery go by. He had ten miles to figure the rest of it out. Ten miles to sort through three weeks of late night conversations with the most intriguing boy he had ever met.

"French toast platter with scrambled eggs," the waitress said, receiving a nod from Brady and a gesture to the empty space in front of him. The aroma of the cinnamon and egg was one of the finest things he had ever smelled. It smelled far better than stale taquitos from a gas station, that much was certain. The coffee, although certainly not of much higher quality than convenience store coffee, was almost as welcome as the food. He would be driving next and he'd rather be as alert as possible before he took the wheel.

"Strawberry crepes, side of sausage," the waitress said, setting the plate down in front of Jack. Jack winked at the waitress. She eyed his green Mohawk and laughed nervously before sliding her empty tray under her arm. She turned back to Brady. "Could you use a refill on your coffee?" She asked.

"Yes, please," Brady said, and the waitress left to fulfil the order. Brady turned back to Jack as he picked up a piece of bacon, biting into it and savoring the greasy meat. Much better than taquitos. "Jack," he said when he finished chewing. "We need to talk about Drake."

"Silas?" Jack said with a raised eyebrow, "What's to talk about?"

"You can't tell me that all the time he spent with us meant nothing," Brady said, rolling his eyes as he reached for the syrup. He inhaled the sweet maple scent as he opened the pitcher and licked his lips. He could taste it already.

"Of course not!" Jack replied, clearly offended by the comment. He stopped cutting the crepe in front of him with his knife to stare at Brady. "You were there when we said goodbye to him. That was one of the most emotional days we've all spent together."

"Then how come we haven't talked about it since then?" Brady countered before slicing into his own meal. "I mean, I know why I haven't, but why have the three of you not mentioned him once?"

"Why don't you tell me why you haven't, and then maybe I can answer that," Jack replied with a self-satisfied smirk before shoving a piece of crepe into his mouth. His expression spoke volumes of how delicious the food was, or at least how it tasted after weeks of eating complete junk. "I'm sorry, Braids," Jack said with food still in his mouth. "You were right, we should have stopped for real food a long time ago."

Brady smiled as he finished chewing on a piece of toast then lifted a bit of his scrambled eggs onto his fork. "That aside, it felt like a performance. It felt like the way I do after we play. I couldn't talk about it because I'd given so much of my emotion over to Drake while he was with us, and I had to take the time to come down from that high."

"I think I finally know what you're talking about, Brady," Jack said thoughtfully. "I honestly hoped Drake would come with us. That boy doesn't deserve to be alone; I thought he liked being with us. I was kind of hurt that he could walk away so nonchalant, though . . . I know he wasn't intending to hurt any of us, and I also know it wasn't easy."

"No, it wasn't," Brady agreed. "You could see it in his eyes when he walked away. He wanted to stay, but something made him want to run. It's sort of like how we can never play the same performance twice."

"How do you figure?" Jack asked before he took a sip of his orange juice. Brady paused to thank the waitress as she arrived to top off his coffee, and only after she left again he felt comfortable enough to resume eating. He stuffed a forkful of eggs into his mouth while he considered Jack's question.

"We, as musicians, know that no two shows are the same," Brady said slowly after swallowing his mouthful. "We live for the thrill of playing in front of a crowd. We live for the feelings we derive from the cheers of people who hear us play and love what we do. But the cheers are different in Salt Lake City than they are in Denver, or in Boise. Music changes with culture, we've learned that and I think it's great."

"And what does that have to do with Silas?" Jack asked.

"He was hurt sometime in his past, I mean, of course he was or he wouldn't be living on the streets, but it was more than that. He was hurt by people close to him, that he thought he could trust. He doesn't know yet that every performance is different," Brady paused and looked up to meet Jack's eyes. "He expected us to hurt him like he was hurt before, and so he had to leave."

Jack nodded slowly before returning his attention to his food. Brady did the same and they ate in silence for several minutes, both considering the past few weeks in their minds. Brady knew he was right. He'd sensed it in Silas early on, at least at a subconscious level. Silas had a lot of pain in him, and he couldn't trust anyone because that pain served as a wall between him and everyone else.

"Brady, I've got to ask you something serious," Jack said, staring out the window, watching the van that he could see parked just outside. He was looking for Stacey. "Brady, do you have feelings for Silas?"

Brady recoiled from the question, dropping his silverware and staring at Jack, his fingers drumming on the tabletop with his lips pursed in thought. It was an interesting question, and one he hadn't allowed himself to think about. "I don't know," Brady answered with a sigh. "It's possible, but I don't know for sure. He . . . he interests me, but he's also younger than me."

"Yeah, by a couple years," Jack said dryly. "That's hardly a difference at all. If you really think that's a problem than you don't know him as well as you think you do. That boy's got more maturity in him than I did at his age. Hell, he might have more maturity in him than I do now." Jack laughed and added, "I think you do. He had feelings for you, ya know."

Brady's eyes widened as he looked up to see Jack grinning at him. "What are you talking about? I know he said he's gay but I don't think . . ."

"Your problem is that you think too much, Braids," Jack said with a chuckle, "If you stopped thinking for a moment and reached out with your heart, I'd bet that you'd find the truth."

Brady rolled his eyes and reached for his coffee as they heard the door to the van open and close. Theo stood stretching on the side of the van and would soon join them inside, though probably not until Stacey woke up too and they talked about how Jack and Brady were having a private conversation again. Theo nodded at them and Jack waved, and Brady knew the important information had been conveyed; they had been together long enough for that, and Theo would give them a few minutes before he came in.

"All right, so maybe I do like him. What of it?" Brady asked as he took a drink of his coffee, staring at Jack as if daring him to make a smart remark.

"I think it's about time you found someone worth loving, Brady," Jack said sincerely, "And that boy, Silas Drake, is probably the best chance you'll ever have because he was totally into you as well. You can't pass that up. If we drive all day and night I think we could find him. He looked like he was going to stay in that town for a while from the way he was eyeing those woods."

"He needs time alone," Brady said, shaking his head. "We can't go back for him yet. Besides, we've got that gig in Boise."

"Braids, if you think we can't get another gig like Boise then you're wrong. You know how we play. We're good, Braids. We're damn good. We can go back . . ." Jack trailed off as Brady shook his head firmly and leaned forward.

"No," Brady insisted. "You wanted me to get in touch with my heart, and I have. Trust me, Drake needs his time alone. We'll go back for him, but not yet."

"Brady, we know where he is right now. Are you sure you want to give him a chance to get away?" Jack asked with a raised eyebrow.

"What's that old line about if you love them let them go?" Brady asked with a sad smile. "I'm sure. We haven't seen the end of Silas Drake, and when he's ready we'll see him again. We have to trust the music, Jackie, and the performance isn't over yet."

Jack nodded and smiled as he dug into his crepes again. Brady turned toward the window where Theo and Stacey stood next to the van, watching them. He waved them inside and then returned his attention to his own food as he waited for his friends to arrive. As cool as he acted outwardly, his heart pounded in his chest as he considered how desperately he wanted to drive that van back in the direction of Crow's Lake, Colorado.

Silas needed love in his life, but it wasn't from Brady that he needed it; at least not yet. The time would come, and Brady would be ready. But for now there was one painful truth he had to acknowledge and accept. He had to let Silas go.

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