With huge, huge, unbelievable amounts of thanks to Brooklinegirl for taking a look at this and giving way more attention than it deserved. Seriously. You rock.
Joe presented Billy his ring with a grin and a joint. They must have been sixteen, seventeen. Didn’t have an actual band yet, but they had the name, and now they had the matching rings. He felt it, warm and heavy on his palm, then slick between his fingers. A heavy silver band, and a snake marking a weaving letter in the middle. “H” for “Hard Core Logo.” They were Hard Core Logo - Joe wrote the lyrics, sang; Billy played guitar; together, they wrote the music. Kid stuff, shitting around - no drums, no bassist, just the two of them and the knowledge that one day they’d be fucking huge.
He didn’t know what he thought of the ring yet. It slid around his finger a bit, but never past the first knuckle, wider than the fleshy part of his finger. The ring was slightly loose, but it would never actually fall off. It felt heavy, kind of strange. Billy didn’t know where Joe’d found them, or where he even got the money to pay for them. Maybe he’d spotted them in a gutter, picked them up, saw the “H” and convinced Billy to call their band “Hard Core Logo” because of them. Maybe he’d hoarded them for weeks after that before showing them to Billy, to make it seem like he’d found the perfect rings for their new perfect name. Or maybe he’d searched the entire town for them, knowing that there had to be perfect rings for their perfect name, and found them.
“So?” Joe was still grinning at him, bouncing on his toes and taking a pull of the joint. His hair flopped past his forehead, into his eyes.
“So what?” Billy lifted his chin.
“What do you think, dickwad? Like ‘em?” Joe’s ring was glistening on his right hand, the middle finger - that was only fitting.
“Man, I don’t know...” Billy looked down at his own hand, which seemed unfamiliar now. It felt new and strangely grown-up, like he was his own older brother. “We don’t even have a drummer or a bassist yet.”
Joe’s eyebrows went up, and he was giving Billy that look that Billy hated - like Billy was nothing but a dumb kid, which may have been true, but Joe was even dumber.
“What the fuck? Are you, what, my grandmother? What the hell?”
Billy swallowed. “I just don’t want to jinx– I don’t wanna pretend --”
“Who’s pretending?” Joe was staring daggers at him now, looking like he was ready to punch his lights out. “Huh? Who’s pretending?”
“Man, all I’m saying is, we gotta get a band together first, you know? Not just talk, but make music, and, anyway --”
“Fuck you, asshole, give it back!”
Instinctively, Billy made a tight fist, protecting the ring from Joe. “No fucking way!”
“Thought you didn’t like it, Billy Boy, huh? C’mon, jackass, give it back --” Joe made a grab for Billy’s hand, and Billy reached out with his other hand and slapped him away. Joe didn’t stop reaching even as he continued swearing at him, his cheeks flushing pink, the joint tucked behind his ear, still smoking. Billy kept swatting at Joe’s hands until finally he pulled his fist back and punched Joe in the face. He stared as Joe staggered back and reached up to his cheek. Billy looked down at his hand, half-surprised at it. The ring had a drop of blood on one edge. He lifted his eyes back to Joe; his cheek was smeared with uneven red streaks and he was panting. Billy collapsed back into the couch and tried not to watch Joe. He didn’t realize he’d been rubbing his ring until his thumb came away smeared with red, too.
He’d kept the ring. Joe’d shut up about it.
Some nights after rehearsals with Paulie and Jones (their first unsuccessful incarnation), he would sit back and play with the ring absent-mindedly. Then Joe would grab his wrist by his bracelet and tug his hand forward. He’d curl his tongue around Billy’s finger, try to get underneath the silver “H” to the slick skin, and sometimes he could, sometimes he couldn’t - depended on how stoned and uncoordinated he was - but every time he half-growled, half-whispered Billy’s name, calling him a bitch. Billy knew it meant he was Joe’s bitch, and yeah, he sometimes was. But when he was fisting Joe’s cock and pumping him, Joe’s precome slicking his fingers, coating the ring, Joe was his bitch all the way.
Over the next few incarnations of the band - Marly, Constantine, The Jackass - he bought and lost and threw out other rings. Middle finger, thumb, ring finger, different ones, came, went - but his “H” stayed on, and so did Joe’s. By the time they finally found Pipe and Oxenberger, he’d settled on two others. A plain sterling silver band around his left index finger and an interweaving silver ring small enough for his pinky. Some chick had thrown it at him after a gig, and he’d caught it, even drunk off his ass. Joe never said so, but Billy knew he hated that ring. Billy kept it; it was still warm from her finger as he slipped it onto his. He had it for three years, until one day when he took his rings off to take a shower in a motel, and it slid down the sink and clunk-clunk-clunked down the drain.
That night, Joe pinned him to the wall, holding him there with the double pressure of his mouth sucking Billy’s wrist and his hand fisting Billy’s dick. Billy shoved his own hand over his mouth and didn’t make a sound.
For years after that he only had the two rings - the “H” and the plain silver one. Then the band broke up, he punched Joe in the gut, moved the fuck on, but when he took off the “H,” he felt naked and lost and kind of lonely. A white spot stood out on his skin from the fifteen years of wear. He kept it off his finger, but didn’t throw it away. Then one night, he ripped a small hole in the lining of his guitar case where a couple of coins or pills could fit, and kept the ring there, while its sharp edges wore away the color of the lining from the inside.
He didn’t stick around for the cremation, didn’t stick around for the funeral. Wasn’t even Joe anymore, just a pile of ash, so why bother. Oxenberger kept the remains - Joe’s mother didn’t want ‘em. Billy didn’t want Joe cremated; he’d wanted to bury their rings with him. The white spot on his skin had faded from the L.A. sun, but it was slightly off-color still, maybe because he’d put it back on for the tour, maybe because it never fully went away in the first place. He thought about keeping the ring on, and keeping the white spot forever, maybe, till they buried him, then he thought about taking it off and putting it back in his guitar case, and then he thought about the faded velvet lining and coins and pills and then he felt like throwing up. So he took Joe’s ring, took his own ring, hung them on a ball chain together and went down to the shallow creek on the edge of town. He smoked a cigarette and rolled the rings in his palm, first with the chain still on his wrist, then with it dangling between his sweaty fingers. Either way, they kind of weighed down his entire hand, swinging back and forth, and if he looked hard enough, he could almost see the traces of Joe’s blood from twenty years ago, could almost hear Joe’s cursing. He smoked the cigarette down to the filter, flicked it to the ground, and threw the chain and the rings in the water.
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