Two Bodies

Somewhere beyond the sea… somewhere waiting for me… my lover stands on golden sands… and watches the ships that go sailin’…

The lull and cresting crackle of the needle in its vinyl groove is soothing. A continuous background purr as the record spins, the speakers pulse, the empty air of the room is filled with music. Two bodies slot together perfectly, hip to hip, chest to chest, turning a small circle in time with the melody embracing them, lifted by lyrics as they lean on one another.

The view from the window, were they to take the time to look, is breathtaking. Waves roar as they crash, slipping along the sand and stripping it from the beach in a frothy claim. Seagulls caw and dive overhead, a child draws wet faces with a twig, a couple walk arm in arm dangling shoes from absent fingers and leave a trail of sinking footprints behind them as they pass.

Time passes. The sun slips across the sky, and more of the sand is swallowed. Two bodies slot together perfectly, hips around hips, chest against chest. Chasing forgiveness, clinging to memories, clutching for hope.

Sadness dims lingering looks, defeat taints tentative kisses, regret fills every movement as actions try to replace what words have lost the ability say. Silent goodbyes have already begun; this last attempt at reconciliation doomed to fail, because when a heart isn’t in it, the last thing you can lie to is a heart.

The needle lifts from the vinyl, the arm shifts and drops it back down, and the crest and crackle begins over once again. The whir of the vinyl turning blurs into the sound of the sea, as two bodies move together to fill the time until they must permanently part.

She thinks she hears a noise, lays her palm between his shoulder blades, whispers for him to still. He pauses, turns his head, listens, hears nothing. Rolls his hips again, an instant distraction for them both.

The second time he hears it; the scratch against the window, the dull thud of the door. A soft wail has them stopping, looking at one another with wild eyes, straining to hear it yet again.

The third time the wail feels closer yet simultaneously far away, but it is accompanied by a sense of being observed that clings to their skin like the cold sea air. He shifts, rolls beside her, unconsciously takes her hand.

By the time they stand, bared in every way imaginable, their hearts beat in a sync they haven’t found in months. Pulsing, rapid, fearful, as the vinyl crests and falls, mimicking the waves beyond their window. The wail is louder yet untraceable, stepping up behind them to suggest a whisper in an ear before spinning away again.

Too terrified to move, they cling and shiver into one another, teeth chattering and skin dimpling against the blast of coldness swirling through the air around them. One final, piercing solitary wail, and it becomes a symphony of three.

Two bodies slump together, a tangle of limp, lifeless limbs, blood mingling as it wicks up in the carpet. There is silence in the air now, calm contrasting cruelly with the linger of screaming.

The vinyl squeaks to an abrupt cease, the needle hovering in mid air held up as though by an unseen hand. Drops down again. The turntable comes to life once more, filling the air with the crest and crackle of the vinyl as it spins.

Somewhere beyond the sea… somewhere waiting for me… my lover stands on golden sands… and watches the ships that go sailin’…

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Victorious

You watch as he intertwines his fingers with hers, ignoring the way it feels like his fingers are talons clawing through your gut.

She smiles at the contact and squeezes back with practiced familiarity. Her head turns, and she freezes you with a smile. She may as well be sliding an ice knife right through you when her gaze falls to yours.

You smile extra wide, as though all is as it should be. Big, bright and bold, the picture of happiness at their happiness.

But she knows. She’s always known. It seems the entire world has always known. All of it, every last one of them, from long term friends to complete strangers. Everyone, that is, but him. Nathan has always been oblivious to so many things about you. Especially that you’ve been in love with him for longer than you haven’t.

Isn’t this the way that unrequited love always goes?

You wait for the day that she’ll finally get rid of you from his life.

You know it’s coming; it’s in every snide comment that he doesn’t seem to hear, and in every loaded look of ‘why are you still here’ that he fails to see.

He’s in love.

There’s light in his eyes when she speaks and sheer happiness that radiates from his face the moment she steps into the room.

You see it, and it punches you, over and over, adding to a layer of bruising built up by keeping this dirty little no-so-secret to yourself for so long.

You should have hardened against it by now. You wonder if you truly ever will.

But now is not the time for introspection.

Now is the time to do the duties, be the person you’re supposed to be.

To push your true feelings aside.

“Are you ready?”

The kindly spoken man in front of you brings you back from your musings and you smile and nod.

You glance up at the man beside you, looking down at you with a knowing look, and you feel a wave of pain all over again. A pain that bathes you in a sea of guilt.

You wink, nudge him with your elbow and he grins, but the smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes. You feel like you’re drowning.

You’ll make it do that. You’ll make him smile, and smile wide. One day. Because none of this is his fault, and you know you’re using him. And that he deserves better. Because he’s perfect, he really is. In every way. All but the important one. He isn’t Nathan.

Clearing your throat and smoothing down your long white skirt that swishes around you and swirls as you stand, you clutch the bouquet tightly. With more certainty than you feel, and more confidence in your voice than you’ve ever heard, you reply.

“Ready.”

“Then, we’ll begin.”

A hush falls over the chapel and the man before you clears his throat. He looks fatherly. Caring. Would he look any differently if he knew?

You turn once more to look at Nathan, the one who should be stood next to you, not the one who is giving you away. But he’s not. And he never will be, not now, and not ever.

Today is your day, supposedly. So why does She look so victorious?

“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today to witness…”

(Originally posted in Inkiit)

Dream Life

Contentment.

That’s a feeling that she’s always understood but never known what it meant.

Her life, everything about her day to day, is as it should be.

She has the home, the little house that overlooks a small farmland in the middle of nowhere and yet close enough to civilisation to not be completely isolated.

She has the home life, the man who looks at her as though she is the sun and it is his life’s mission to ensure she rises every day by bringing her every happiness. The big fluffy dog that bounds around their place with exuberant joy at just existing. The loyal friends who live close by and they can see whenever they feel like taking a trip in their trusty old battered truck.

She has the job, working on her writing from her faded white porch with the breeze in her hair and the sweet scent of honeysuckle all around, and in winter she retreats inside to the small office that overlooks the same peaceful fields and is kept warm by a small fire hearth.

It is a simple existence, a quiet one that is small but so full, and everything she needs.

There is nothing that she wants for.

Nothing, aside from a horrific recurring dream to leave her in peace.

This dream is far too lifesize, and leaves her with a pain in her temples and her heart pounding in her chest.

She dreams she is in a hospital bed, muffled voices all around her and a constant bleep of monitors playing in her ears. Her body aches so badly she feels as though she is broken all the way through; shards of agony interlaced with a dull pain that never quite seems to leave, and her head, oh, how her head screams in these dreams, such pain that all these vivid images are often overpowered by a bright harsh white that blocks out everything else.

She can’t remember a time when she hasn’t had these dreams, they have always been with her, always the same, following her along like a second shadow. She acknowledges they are part of her. Much like she doesn’t really remember growing up, can’t really describe what her schooling was like, but knows these things happened, these dreams are just part and parcel of who she is. Not something to be dwelt on. They are something that happens, that she has to deal with, and if she doesn’t reign them in the second they enter her thoughts, the accompanying panic is too much. She has to jam the lid on tight to contain them, otherwise the dreams become too big to manage.

Fragments of another life invade her mind, another life where her day to day knows no contentment, only hurdles to fall on, bumps in the road that loom up and pin her down, nothing but pain and struggle and fear.

Which is why she shuts any thoughts about the dreams down as quickly as she can, forcing her breathing under control and the beating of her heart to slow.

For the same reason, she shuts all thoughts about the past out. Even though she’d love to remember good things like how she met him, and where they got their dog. She can’t risk allowing any thoughts, because in the search for good memories she knows full well she’ll stumble on the bad ones too.

She looks up at the man who is walking towards her with a basket of eggs from their small chicken coop and feels calm descend once more. He is the balm to soothe these moments of fear, even if she has never mentioned them to him, in however long they have been together.

Their dog pounds up the steps, all panting excitement, and nuzzles his head into her hand, demanding attention. She feels her arm raise, without her control, and for a moment it isn’t a chocolate labrador pushing against her hand but an unknown human, raising her pale white arm attached to some kind of drip feeding into her veins, tapping here and there as if trying to rouse her.

She shakes her head, clearing it of the image and dismissing any concerns about her health by saying her head is just sore from doing a lot of reading. He takes her hand, pulls her to her feet and into his arms where she stays, as they dance a small, slow circle in the late afternoon sun. His lips fall to her ear and he whispers all the things she loves to hear. Her arms circle around his neck and she allows him to lull her into a sense of mindless comfort.

If she hears other whispers they are too faint for her to make out, and why would she even want to try?

Some words from the whispers do manage to filter through the buzzing in her head sometimes though, words like ‘wake’ and ‘live’ and ‘choose’.

Choose.

How could she ever choose another existence than this one?

She won’t give it up, not for anything.

(Originally posted on Inkiit)

Always

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“Shot time,” she heard and smiled as she watched his hands appear slowly either side of her waist, a glass of sorts in each. She felt him press against her and leaned back in familiar reassurance whilst grinning up at the man before her; his eyes met hers with mild amusement as he shook his head lightly, reached down to kiss her softly on the cheek, and walked away.

“Yes. Shot time,” she agreed, laughing, turning slightly in his half-embrace and accepting the offered drink.”What is it?” she asked, pondering the pale yellow liquid as she swirled it gently. “And aren’t these usually…smaller?”

He looked down at her hand. “In answer to your first: I have no idea at all. To your second, yes, I suppose so – these usually come in a test tube. But I asked for doubles!” He smiled triumphantly. “Hence the-”

“Boiling tube?” She finished for him.

“Exactly.”

“Reckon they’ve cleaned these out properly? Or are they straight from the lab?!”

He laughed. “Who knows? Where’s your sense of adventure?!”

Her turn to laugh. “It’s hiding at the thought of spending the rest of the evening hidden in a bathroom cubicle with the after effects of unknown alcohol and chemical cocktails. But OK. I will if you will.”

“We should toast! Ooh, toast. Jam, marmalade, butter?”

A giggle escaped her lips as it always did in his company.

“All of the above. What are we toasting to?”

“You, naturally.” He raised his glass solemnly and cleared his throat.

“To my best friend in the world on the best night of her life. Be happy. Always.”

She smiled, not hiding the slight glisten in her eyes at his words.

“To being happy.”

He lowered his glass to clink against hers and echoed, “To being happy.”

They both flung their heads back and the liquid disappeared, leaving a pleasant burn in their throats. He swayed slightly and she reached out to steady him.

“Had much to drink tonight?” She asked drily, gesturing for them to sit on two high stools at an unoccupied table.He followed her and sat down heavily with an uninterested shrug of his shoulders.

“Probably, possibly. Maybe?”

“Well. Guess it is a free bar…”

“Yes!” He replied enthusiastically, “Thank you for that!”

“You won’t be thanking me in the morning when the London Philharmonic Orchestra is doing a parade across the inside of your skull.”

He shrugged once more and rested his hands on the table, smiling across at her. His eyes searched her own and she felt nervous as he held her gaze intensely.”I love you, you know.”

She nodded and grinned back. “I know it. And you know I love you too. Best friend forever, right?”

He didn’t answer, just continued to stare her down, hold her gaze.”I love you.” He repeated softly, quieter this time.

They had known each other for twelve long years throughout school, college and university. All of the unspoken things neither had had the courage to say now passed silently through their locked gaze in a steady stream of silence. In the past, one of them had always backed away when this happened, sweeping it up under the carpet before any permanent damage could be done.

Neither broke away.

“I love you.” he repeated, more adamantly this time.

She swallowed her retort, eyes not shifting away awkwardly as she had done a thousand times before. “Me, too.”

Silence continued.

Finally, she whispered, “…since when?”

His face contorted into a self-deprecating grin. “Since the beginning. Can I ask-”

“Always.” she interrupted without letting him finish his question.

“Always…” He repeated in a remorseful tone heavy with regret.

“But-”

He held out his hand to stop her, like a shield to protect him from the assault of words.

“I know. God, do I know!” He laughed a little shakily and ran an awkward hand through his hair, vowing he would cut it first thing in the morning. He had only ever kept it long for her, and now…

As one, they looked over at the tall man who had been stood with them earlier. A good man, kind, loving, full of vitality and a world to offer her. Her husband of merely a few hours. A man she loved, truly loved. Yet here before her sat her best friend, the man she had pined for, loved and trusted like no other from her teenage years through to her young adult life. He loved her. She hadn’t been mistaken. It wasn’t all in her head.

And yet. He had walked her down the aisle, given her away in the place of her father, approved of this wedding with all the generosity and enthusiasm you would expect from your best friend.

Was it selfish for him to tell her now, now of all nights, her wedding night? Would it have been kinder to have never known? No, she was glad she knew. Their moment, had they ever had one, had passed long ago in the cowardice of untruth.

Music struck up as if on cue and she watched as her husband held his hand out to her with his eyes full of happiness; their first dance as a married couple. All eyes would be on them now in the celebration of their vows. With one quick look to the man beside her she sought what: forgiveness? Permission? Acceptance?

The smallest of smiles accompanied by tear-filled eyes greeted her unperceived by anyone else. He still loved her. He would always love her. He would always be her friend. No matter how much it hurt.

Standing a little shakily and without looking back, she took the few steps needed and reached out her own hand, allowing herself to be spun out onto the dancefloor as a thousand camera flashes created a snowstorm of lights around them.

(Originally posted in Inkiit)

Keeping It Simple

For those of you who follow/have followed me elsewhere, you might recognise this story in another guise 😉


Looking back now, it all seemed like unnecessary fuss.

Everyone they’d ever met had commented on the way they looked at one another, how they gravitated towards each other without the slightest sign of effort, or even the intention of doing so. How, no matter what they were doing, or who they were with, they’d end up side by side, often forget there were even other people around them when they were talking, and more often than not would be the ones to walk each other home.

They shared clothes, split drinks, stole food from each other’s plates when they were out to dinner, and knew their way around one another’s apartments as though they lived there themselves. Which in some ways, they did, because they spent so much time together, that if any of their friends ever saw either one of them alone, they politely checked if the other one was sick, or working late.

No one said anything of course, as the looks between them became more loaded, and their closeness grew more heated, until the knowing expressions of their friends were so obvious that even they couldn’t ignore what was happening. There are only so many times you can fantasize about having someone’s lips on yours before you find yourself on them, without even realizing what you’ve done.

Mark hadn’t even said a word.

That initial kiss, when Liam had pulled back in belated realization of his own actions, all he’d felt was fear. Of rejection, of losing the best friend he’d ever had, of never knowing the taste of Mark again. He really shouldn’t have worried, though, he reflected, thinking about it all this time later with a rueful smile for himself, because the only thing Mark’s smile for him at the time had said was… finally.

And that had been it.

Well, not quite it.

Of course, there had been conversations, words that with anyone else would have stayed firmly hidden away under metaphorical lock and key. But with Mark, in private, Liam’s words flowed freely, and in turn freed him of all the burdens he’d been carrying by not letting what he really wanted to be known.

He’d laughingly told Mark of all the times he’d planned conversations with him, to tell him what he was feeling was more than friendship, or adopted brother since they’d known each other so very long. He’d imagined every outcome, both good and bad, and had reached for him countless times before forcing himself to pull back again at the last moment, never sure if this is something he could really have.

Mark had rolled his eyes, but smiled, kind as he had always been to him. He too had internalized those very same conversations, those wants, and also the same fears, he’d shared with him then, reaching out and grabbing his hand. And it proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that they really were both excellent at giving other people advice about talking, and honesty, but failed continuously at doing both those things themselves.

And after that, they just… were. No fanfares, no confessions, nothing involving any kind of fussing. No drunken announcements, or status declarations on Facebook, or lewd insinuations in their Whatsapp groups involving emojis of eggplants and winky faces. No acknowledgement of before and after. They just… were.

Everyone would figure it out, eventually.

Even if it did take one very drunken birthday party where Liam and Mark had been unable to see anything but each other, and alcohol had found them grinding together in a corner, smiles never far from their lips, lips never far from each other’s, oblivious to the flash of cameras behind them, the hollering, and even the eventual raucous round of applause. It had taken a hearty grasp around Liam’s shoulder by his brother, whose birthday party it actually was, for them to untangle themselves from each other long enough to turn around, realise they were being watched.

But it had been okay. After the initial blushing, and mumbled excuses for leaving early, they’d woken to a stream of notifications on their phones, and spent a lazy morning in bed skimming through message after message of congratulations, then losing themselves in each other once more; this time without an audience of smiling eyes to stop them. And it had taken them a while, what with the long shower and vast amount of breakfast food that followed, but then each and every one of those messages had been returned, with thanks, and love, and if they were both honest, a little bit of relief that no Big Conversation was necessary.

So now, here they were. It was okay to reach out and touch one another in public. It was fine to lean a head on a chest, or a hand on a heart, to check the other were still there. It was more than fine to somehow manage to fall asleep in each other’s arms every single night, no matter what was going on around them. Liam figured he’d done enough self-denying for so long when it came to Mark to allow him this one selfish thing.

Mark was more than happy to oblige.

So here they were, in a blissful kind of limbo between work and other obligations. Staring up at a starry sky with nothing but a blanket beneath them and a holding of hands between them, cliche dates on deserted beaches be damned.

It wasn’t always simple.

But in this moment, it was.

Tomorrow

When did tomorrow become too late?

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll tell him. Tomorrow I’ll find the words to sum up all the chaos that’s been turning paces round the inside of my skull for a lifetime.

Tomorrow.

Tomorrow I’ll stop making excuses, find courage that I tell myself I have for every other occasion when for this, courage seems like an impossible task.

Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll call, tomorrow I’ll say something, tomorrow I’ll be the person I could be, were I only to open my mouth.

Tomorrow. He’s… gone. Not here. No forwarding address, no call connecting, no way to make contact now I’ve found the strength to ask.

Did you want this? Me? Think of me for even one of the moments I’ve been dreaming of you? Did I occupy any corner of your mind, like you’ve invaded every one of my thoughts?

Tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I said, over and over and over some more, until tomorrow came, but you were already gone.

You couldn’t wait for me, and I understand that, in theory, of course I do.

But if I had just one more tomorrow. Just one more moment to hesitate.

Where would you be now?

Waiting For the Right Time

When Evan’s brother is in an accident, he’s terrified, and doesn’t know where to turn, or who to ask for support. Which is stupid, really, since Peter’s been in his life for longer than he hasn’t, and has always been a rock.


 

It isn’t fair, Evan thinks, staring down at Tom laid pristine white in a hospital bed, willing himself to concentrate on the slightest evidence of his chest rising up and down. Tom’s the baby of the family, eight years younger than Evan is himself, and all Evan can think staring down at him then, is that he’s failed him for letting this happen.

It’s beyond not fair, he adds, eyes closing in anguish at the sight of the apparatus set around the head of that bed, proof that Tom’s only there because there’s machinery keeping him alive. The bandage wound around his head speaks of swelling that hasn’t shown any sign of lessening, and there are enough smaller ones dotted to his neck and arms to make him look tiny, fragile there in that bed.

Tom’s a good guy, the best of them, never done anything but try to live a good, honest life, and do the right thing, every chance that he gets. And okay, so maybe Evan’s a little biased because Tom’s his little brother and he’ll never see him as anything but a hero. But he’s also never willingly hurt anyone, and that’s a heroic quality Evan feels a lot of people in the world are lacking, turning a blind eye where Tom is always sticking up for people. Always jumping to the defence of others without any regard for himself, without ever being asked.

Which is apparently how he got himself into this mess in the first place.

Just a day ago, Evan had been putting the finishing touches to a customer’s garden, enjoying the many perks of outdoor work in the late summer sun, when he’d received the phone call. A quick glance around, his careful eye checking for any small details that needed fixing, was interrupted by the scream of his phone, and Tom’s near-hysterical friend Steven announcing he’d been hurt in a fight.

Evan had driven directly to the hospital, the mantra that Tom was against mindless violence doing nothing but terrify him even more, for all the images and possibilities it stabbed into his mind. Steven’s broken words when he’d collapsed into Evan’s arms, once he’d found him wide-eyed and startled on a hospital corridor outside the operating theatre, spoke of Tom standing like a fortress, when a guy at the table next to theirs in a beer garden had been attacked. Of course he did, Evan thinks to himself for the hundredth time as he reaches out to pointlessly straighten Tom’s blanket, of course he’d done that. Without even hesitating. Without even giving it a thought.

There’s only the two of them, Evan thinks then, his stomach knotting over and over, half-glad that their parents are already long gone and not having to share this burden with him, yet also desperately missing their support. What happens next? Who does he need to call? What can he do to fix this? There’s a thousand things he needs answers to, but no one there to tell him anything.

Thank god, or whatever is out there, he thinks, that Peter is there with him.

Peter is a calming, steady presence beside him as Evan stands watch over Tom, twitching, trying to anticipate whatever Tom might need, or want, even though he hasn’t yet opened his eyes.

“I’m here,” Peter says, seeming to sense how badly he needs him, not offering any platitudes about Tom being okay, knowing it will do nothing to soothe Evan’s nerves. Instead he drapes his arm around Evan’s shoulder and allows him to shuffle closer, the only acknowledgement paid to Evan’s frustrated tears being the circling of his thumb repeatedly against his upper arm.

***

When Evan gets Tom back to his apartment to watch over him as he recovers, Peter is still there beside him offering quiet support. He brings Evan coffee, swiftly grabbing the rapidly emptying whiskey bottle from Evan’s hands with a terse look that speaks volumes Evan doesn’t want to hear about, and replacing it with a large, warm mug he can wrap his fingers around as he quietly nods in thanks.

Peter empties the bowl Tom retches into sometimes, walks with him to the bathroom when he needs help getting there – when he’s sent Evan out on errands to force him into getting some fresh air, and continues his silent vigil over both of the brothers when Evan finally succumbs to much-needed sleep.

Peter is also there, when Tom is screaming, crying out in the middle of a nightmare, and Evan is leaking silent tears of his own for all the things he can’t do for him. Peter rests a hand on Evan’s shoulder, and Evan breaks, grabbing Peter to him and sobbing wrecked into his neck, clinging on with a vice-like grip. Peter soothes with words spoken softly into his ear, and gentle hands rubbing reassurances into his back.

At some point about a week into Tom’s recovery, Evan thinks that in a fear-fuelled moment late one night, he’s kissed Peter, seeking comfort, reassurance, and escape. But his mind is so twisted in confusion with all that’s happening, and so bone-tired, that he can’t even remember if the moment was real, or just an unrealised fantasy that’s taunting him. That has taunted him, for as long as he can remember. Either way, Peter resolutely stays by his side.

***

Tom is strong, and begins to show good progress, with strength returning to his limbs, and wit making a reappearance in his words. Evan looks on, smiling proudly, reminded of a thousand times he’d watched over Tom protectively in sleep when they were growing up, repeating his mantra of thank you over and over for having him there to still do that.

As Tom gets better still, Evan begins to leave him alone for longer periods as a solution to his argument that he should go home, get out of his hair. He’s never far enough away to be out of shouting distance if Tom needs him, or wants to yell at him some more for being an overprotective mother hen; but enough to give Tom what is surely much needed space.

Peter is still there with him, and Evan finds it aches thinking about him eventually leaving when things go back to normal. His overnight bag’s become a feature of Evan’s living room, his favourite shower gel leaves a teasing scent of him in the bathroom, and his attempts to force nutritious food on Evan have filled his cupboards with strange new worlds of ingredients for all the recipes he’s got him trying.

Evan pauses outside Tom’s room, one time, hearing Tom’s soft laughter and a bemused, gentle mirth in Peter’s low, gravelly tone, leaving Evan stuck between listening and leaving, both curious and afraid of what he might overhear.

“Don’t tell him, Pete, ‘cos I can’t handle justifying all his fussing. But I don’t know how I’d have got through this without him,” he hears, and Evan feels a lump form in his throat, that he quickly forces down.

“You too,” Tom adds, and from the rustling sound that follows, Evan’s sure Tom’s reached out to pat Peter on the shoulder, or something.

“Evan wouldn’t leave your side, Tom, not for a second. When we were in the hospital waiting for you to wake up, I had to drag him out of your room to make him take even a five second break. He was terrified for you. Kept telling me, he wished he could take your place there, wished he could be going through it all for you. And though I would do anything for you, help you in any way I can, it’s been… difficult. To have to hear him talking like that. It’s probably selfish, but… I’ve felt so helpless,” Peter finishes with a sigh, and Evan wants to walk in and wrap his arms around his shoulders, tell him how vital he’s been to him throughout all of this.

“You’ve been here for Evan.” Tom answers, stealing his words. “That is far from being helpless,” Evan hears Tom reply, imagines his smile, and closes his eyes, grateful that Tom is finally smiling again.

“He’d be lost without you too, you know?” Tom adds, and Evan freezes at his words, desperate to know Peter’s response.

There is a pause, but finally Peter gives a soft, breathy sigh that sounds like acknowledgement, and answers quietly with, “As would I without him.”

“You guys need to talk stuff out, you know,” Tom tells him, and Evan thinks he can picture Peter shuffling in discomfort.

“It’s not really the time, Tom. We need you to concentrate on getting better, more than anything else.” Peter’s tone is decided, and firm, adamant he’s right in his thinking. He is right, Evan agrees, but it doesn’t stop his heart sinking a little, even if he’s not worked up the courage to do anything about this – them, himself.

“Pete,” Tom’s talking in that gentle, patient, explaining-to-an-idiot tone of his, and Evan kind of loves him for it. “I’ve known you for… it feels like all my life. You two have been friends since forever now, and it’s obvious to anyone with eyes that there’s something between you even if you pretend that there isn’t. If you keep thinking about it like that, that now’s not really the time, there’s never gonna be a right time. So why not make it the right time now? What is it the two of you are waiting for?”

Evan doesn’t want to hear Peter’s answer, too scared it will be the confirmation of rejection, so chooses that moment to go in with the tray of food he’s prepared. But it’s not like Tom’s words don’t play over and over for Evan, or stop him sneaking continual glances in Peter’s direction for the rest of the day. Or give him any chance of sleep later that night.

When he’s admitted sleep is just not going to be happening for him, Evan gets up, sighing heavily at the early hour glaring back at him on his phone, and pads through to the living room, expecting to find Peter stoically asleep on the sofa where he’s taking up what feels like just as much permanent residence as Tom. But Peter is sat at the dining table, his face illuminated by the screen of his laptop, and his eyes raise at the sound of Evan entering the room.

“Can’t sleep,” Evan offers in answer to Peter’s silent question, “What are you doing?”

Peter pauses, then reaches over to flick on a lamp on the table, and silently closes the laptop lid.

“Nothing much,” he says, coming around to lean back against the table, his hands wrapping around the edge, as he watches Evan. “Couldn’t sleep either,”

Evan watches back.

The silence remains heavy, loaded with unspoken questions. And Evan decides he can’t stand just watching anymore, so takes a courageous step forward. He bends slightly to cup Peter’s face and tilt it up, slow to give him time to resist if that’s what he wants to do. And then Evan leans down, claiming Peter’s mouth in a kiss that feels very, very long overdue. Peter’s hands are immediately around his waist, gripping Evan as he adjusts the way he stands between his legs, and pulling him as close as he can get.

The silence between them might not be filled with words, but there’s soft gasps and gentle exploration in their place, and that adds more to the sense Evan has of them finally getting somewhere. Evan feels hopeful, and humble, and more than anything, home. And when they pull apart to catch their breath, Peter’s smile for him repeats the same thing back.

***

When Tom walks through in the morning, rubbing a tired hand down his face, he comes to a stop at the foot of the sofa, his head tilting to one side as he considers the view in front of him.

On the sofa lays Peter on his back, with Evan tangled between his legs and wrapped up in his arms, fast asleep in the crook of Peter’s neck.

Peter looks at Tom, and Tom looks on back at Peter, and where Peter’s smile is small and a little timid, Tom’s is wide, and beaming happiness.

They nod at each other in unspoken acceptance of the change in circumstances between them all, before Tom turns and heads into the kitchen, a spring in his step and a hum in this mouth. He rinses the cafetiere, measuring out a generous amount of coffee, then settles it down on the side, fingers drumming as he considers adding another spoon.

Tom pulls down two mugs from a shelf, leans over to fill the kettle, then leans back against the counter, a gentle smile lingering around his lips for how ecstatic he feels for his brother. And with that smile, and a barrage of teasing already forming in his head, he turns around, and reaches for a third.

The Next Step

In the whirlwind that is after their first kiss, he knows that he’s got to keep making the decisions that count. There’s too much at stake here if he flounders; it’s like now he’s allowed himself to feel even a fragment of what he thinks he truly does for him, that all the blurred images that were once his rigid world, have been wiped clear, and everything is a sharper, brighter contrast than he’s ever dared imagine.

But what’s more important, what’s become bigger than all of that, in all that time after, is the responsibility he now holds in his hands; maybe, he corrects, more accurately in his heart. Because after all that pausing, all that lashing out when things are overwhelming, now he’s dared allow himself to have a taste, there is no way to resist the need to lean in for it just once more, time and time again. And he couldn’t live with himself if he pulled away from him now, even for a second, even in a moment of doubt; because he is too important, too luminescent to ever have to be smudged with the undignified shade of his awkward hesitation, of not knowing how to start.

They’ve been dancing; oh, how long have they been dancing. One of them will step forward to claim a kiss, a touch, a smile meant only for the other, and the other will then follow, only to pull back again, then lead with his own routine. It’s dizzying, this need that swells in him, more absorbing than anything else he’s ever felt, and coupled with the knowledge, the unyielding certainty of knowing that he is wanted back, well, that’s a little intoxicating.

But he can’t misstep, he can’t hesitate for too long, can’t bear to be the one that taints even a fraction of his smile, because he is too bright, too vibrant, to be anything but happy. It shouldn’t be allowed; he will not allow it, and more important than perhaps anything else, he will not be the one to ever tarnish that smile again. He’s done it too often, both meaning and not meaning to, too wrapped up in his own confusion to ever be good enough for what he might be wanting with him.

But he does want him, that much is clear; he’s never been shy with his affection or intention, so it’s a little surprising, when he reaches out, only to see his eyes widen in a fraction of alarm, before he takes a stumbling step back.

He never stumbles. And he never wants to be the one that makes him stumble; he’s too steady, too sure of himself to let such an unwieldy creature as himself be the one that knocks the backs of his knees, the air from his lungs. The spark from his eyes.

Is he wrong? Is this step he’s proposing too much too soon, or a move that was never destined to happen?

Worry, he hears, and vulnerable, and it’s laced with self-doubt, self-preservation, and so much contradiction; it’s like the want is there, lurking right behind his irises, but beneath his skin he’s twitching, churning. Fearful to reach out, fearful to take, in case he’s pushed away, permanently this time.

He wants this; does he not already know how much he wants this? Can he not tell by the tremble in his lip, the quake of his shoulders, that he wants this, him, so very badly, yet is half-terrified to reach for it as well?

He is an anchor, a port in a storm, a safe haven when the world is too much and the rain of that world comes crashing down to drown him. But he’s also the spark that ignites him, the curve in his lip, the beating of his heart in ways he didn’t ever dare to imagine he’d get to feel, to experience in his life.

This calls for bravery, a courage that he’s not sure he’s really wielding. But he wants this, in fact, he thinks he needs it, that they both need it; maybe if he can surrender his fear of falling, and he can lose his doubt of ever being caught, then they will meet somewhere in the middle. And that loneliness that swells in his gut, that he’s sure he’s seen peering out the corners of his eyes; maybe they can lose that. Maybe they can bolster each other.

What better way to find out? What better time than now?

He has to keep going, he has to keep pushing, because if he pauses for even a second, that strength and certainty he’s pretending to feel will crash and crumble, and if he steps back, for even a moment, maybe he’ll see in his eyes that this, he, is not really what he wanted after all. Not for more than a frivolity, a passing moment, a shiny new thing to brighten one of his endless days before discarding him again.

He can’t be that. He is not that. But what he is, is terrified; how can it be possible to feel so many emotions all at once? Is this what they always warned him against? Not that they could make you weak, but that they would overwhelm you; blur into and over one another, until you have no sense of time or meaning, when you are trying to feel, and be everything, all the versions of yourself, all at the same time?

He smiles then, delighted as he steps back just enough to really look at him, gripping tight enough to reassure that this is what he wants as well. It is freeing, to be on the receiving end of such beauty, to stare it down as though it is a sun he knows is going to burn him, but he won’t ever mind being forever scorched by. Not by him, and not like this; not when he’s leaning in to kiss him all over again, and the door slams closed behind them, and his heart sings at the knowledge that it is coming home.

The Next Step

In the whirlwind that is after their first kiss, he knows that he’s got to keep making the decisions that count. There’s too much at stake here if he flounders; it’s like now he’s allowed himself to feel even a fragment of what he thinks he truly does for him, that all the blurred images that were once his rigid world, have been wiped clear, and everything is a sharper, brighter contrast than he’s ever dared imagine.

But what’s more important, what’s become bigger than all of that, in all that time after, is the responsibility he now holds in his hands; maybe, he corrects, more accurately in his heart. Because after all that pausing, all that lashing out when things are overwhelming, now he’s dared allow himself to have a taste, there is no way to resist the need to lean in for it just once more, time and time again. And he couldn’t live with himself if he pulled away from him now, even for a second, even in a moment of doubt; because he is too important, too luminescent to ever have to be smudged with the undignified shade of his awkward hesitation, of not knowing how to start.

They’ve been dancing; oh, how long have they been dancing. One of them will step forward to claim a kiss, a touch, a smile meant only for the other, and the other will then follow, only to pull back again, then lead with his own routine. It’s dizzying, this need that swells in him, more absorbing than anything else he’s ever felt, and coupled with the knowledge, the unyielding certainty of knowing that he is wanted back, well, that’s a little intoxicating.

But he can’t misstep, he can’t hesitate for too long, can’t bear to be the one that taints even a fraction of his smile, because he is too bright, too vibrant, to be anything but happy. It shouldn’t be allowed; he will not allow it, and more important than perhaps anything else, he will not be the one to ever tarnish that smile again. He’s done it too often, both meaning and not meaning to, too wrapped up in his own confusion to ever be good enough for what he might be wanting with him.

But he does want him, that much is clear; he’s never been shy with his affection or intention, so it’s a little surprising, when he reaches out, only to see his eyes widen in a fraction of alarm, before he takes a stumbling step back.

He never stumbles. And he never wants to be the one that makes him stumble; he’s too steady, too sure of himself to let such an unwieldy creature as himself be the one that knocks the backs of his knees, the air from his lungs. The spark from his eyes.

Is he wrong? Is this step he’s proposing too much too soon, or a move that was never destined to happen?

Worry, he hears, and vulnerable, and it’s laced with self-doubt, self-preservation, and so much contradiction; it’s like the want is there, lurking right behind his irises, but beneath his skin he’s twitching, churning. Fearful to reach out, fearful to take, in case he’s pushed away, permanently this time.

He wants this; does he not already know how much he wants this? Can he not tell by the tremble in his lip, the quake of his shoulders, that he wants this, him, so very badly, yet is half-terrified to reach for it as well?

He is an anchor, a port in a storm, a safe haven when the world is too much and the rain of that world comes crashing down to drown him. But he’s also the spark that ignites him, the curve in his lip, the beating of his heart in ways he didn’t ever dare to imagine he’d get to feel, to experience in his life.

This calls for bravery, a courage that he’s not sure he’s really wielding. But he wants this, in fact, he thinks he needs it, that they both need it; maybe if he can surrender his fear of falling, and he can lose his doubt of ever being caught, then they will meet somewhere in the middle. And that loneliness that swells in his gut, that he’s sure he’s seen peering out the corners of his eyes; maybe they can lose that. Maybe they can bolster each other.

What better way to find out? What better time than now?

He has to keep going, he has to keep pushing, because if he pauses for even a second, that strength and certainty he’s pretending to feel will crash and crumble, and if he steps back, for even a moment, maybe he’ll see in his eyes that this, he, is not really what he wanted after all. Not for more than a frivolity, a passing moment, a shiny new thing to brighten one of his endless days before discarding him again.

He can’t be that. He is not that. But what he is, is terrified; how can it be possible to feel so many emotions all at once? Is this what they always warned him against? Not that they could make you weak, but that they would overwhelm you; blur into and over one another, until you have no sense of time or meaning, when you are trying to feel, and be everything, all the versions of yourself, all at the same time?

He smiles then, delighted as he steps back just enough to really look at him, gripping tight enough to reassure that this is what he wants as well. It is freeing, to be on the receiving end of such beauty, to stare it down as though it is a sun he knows is going to burn him, but he won’t ever mind being forever scorched by. Not by him, and not like this; not when he’s leaning in to kiss him all over again, and the door slams closed behind them, and his heart sings at the knowledge that it is coming home.

Waiting For the Right Time

When Evan’s brother is in an accident, he’s terrified, and doesn’t know where to turn, or who to ask for support. Which is stupid, really, since Peter’s been in his life for longer than he hasn’t, and has always been a rock.


 

It isn’t fair, Evan thinks, staring down at Tom laid pristine white in a hospital bed, willing himself to concentrate on the slightest evidence of his chest rising up and down. Tom’s the baby of the family, eight years younger than Evan is himself, and all Evan can think staring down at him then, is that he’s failed him for letting this happen.

It’s beyond not fair, he adds, eyes closing in anguish at the sight of the apparatus set around the head of that bed, proof that Tom’s only there because there’s machinery keeping him alive. The bandage wound around his head speaks of swelling that hasn’t shown any sign of lessening, and there are enough smaller ones dotted to his neck and arms to make him look tiny, fragile there in that bed.

Tom’s a good guy, the best of them, never done anything but try to live a good, honest life, and do the right thing, every chance that he gets. And okay, so maybe Evan’s a little biased because Tom’s his little brother and he’ll never see him as anything but a hero. But he’s also never willingly hurt anyone, and that’s a heroic quality Evan feels a lot of people in the world are lacking, turning a blind eye where Tom is always sticking up for people. Always jumping to the defence of others without any regard for himself, without ever being asked.

Which is apparently how he got himself into this mess in the first place.

Just a day ago, Evan had been putting the finishing touches to a customer’s garden, enjoying the many perks of outdoor work in the late summer sun, when he’d received the phone call. A quick glance around, his careful eye checking for any small details that needed fixing, was interrupted by the scream of his phone, and Tom’s near-hysterical friend Steven announcing he’d been hurt in a fight.

Evan had driven directly to the hospital, the mantra that Tom was against mindless violence doing nothing but terrify him even more, for all the images and possibilities it stabbed into his mind. Steven’s broken words when he’d collapsed into Evan’s arms, once he’d found him wide-eyed and startled on a hospital corridor outside the operating theatre, spoke of Tom standing like a fortress, when a guy at the table next to theirs in a beer garden had been attacked. Of course he did, Evan thinks to himself for the hundredth time as he reaches out to pointlessly straighten Tom’s blanket, of course he’d done that. Without even hesitating. Without even giving it a thought.

There’s only the two of them, Evan thinks then, his stomach knotting over and over, half-glad that their parents are already long gone and not having to share this burden with him, yet also desperately missing their support. What happens next? Who does he need to call? What can he do to fix this? There’s a thousand things he needs answers to, but no one there to tell him anything.

Thank god, or whatever is out there, he thinks, that Peter is there with him.

Peter is a calming, steady presence beside him as Evan stands watch over Tom, twitching, trying to anticipate whatever Tom might need, or want, even though he hasn’t yet opened his eyes.

“I’m here,” Peter says, seeming to sense how badly he needs him, not offering any platitudes about Tom being okay, knowing it will do nothing to soothe Evan’s nerves. Instead he drapes his arm around Evan’s shoulder and allows him to shuffle closer, the only acknowledgement paid to Evan’s frustrated tears being the circling of his thumb repeatedly against his upper arm.

***

When Evan gets Tom back to his apartment to watch over him as he recovers, Peter is still there beside him offering quiet support. He brings Evan coffee, swiftly grabbing the rapidly emptying whiskey bottle from Evan’s hands with a terse look that speaks volumes Evan doesn’t want to hear about, and replacing it with a large, warm mug he can wrap his fingers around as he quietly nods in thanks.

Peter empties the bowl Tom retches into sometimes, walks with him to the bathroom when he needs help getting there – when he’s sent Evan out on errands to force him into getting some fresh air, and continues his silent vigil over both of the brothers when Evan finally succumbs to much-needed sleep.

Peter is also there, when Tom is screaming, crying out in the middle of a nightmare, and Evan is leaking silent tears of his own for all the things he can’t do for him. Peter rests a hand on Evan’s shoulder, and Evan breaks, grabbing Peter to him and sobbing wrecked into his neck, clinging on with a vice-like grip. Peter soothes with words spoken softly into his ear, and gentle hands rubbing reassurances into his back.

At some point about a week into Tom’s recovery, Evan thinks that in a fear-fuelled moment late one night, he’s kissed Peter, seeking comfort, reassurance, and escape. But his mind is so twisted in confusion with all that’s happening, and so bone-tired, that he can’t even remember if the moment was real, or just an unrealised fantasy that’s taunting him. That has taunted him, for as long as he can remember. Either way, Peter resolutely stays by his side.

***

Tom is strong, and begins to show good progress, with strength returning to his limbs, and wit making a reappearance in his words. Evan looks on, smiling proudly, reminded of a thousand times he’d watched over Tom protectively in sleep when they were growing up, repeating his mantra of thank you over and over for having him there to still do that.

As Tom gets better still, Evan begins to leave him alone for longer periods as a solution to his argument that he should go home, get out of his hair. He’s never far enough away to be out of shouting distance if Tom needs him, or wants to yell at him some more for being an overprotective mother hen; but enough to give Tom what is surely much needed space.

Peter is still there with him, and Evan finds it aches thinking about him eventually leaving when things go back to normal. His overnight bag’s become a feature of Evan’s living room, his favourite shower gel leaves a teasing scent of him in the bathroom, and his attempts to force nutritious food on Evan have filled his cupboards with strange new worlds of ingredients for all the recipes he’s got him trying.

Evan pauses outside Tom’s room, one time, hearing Tom’s soft laughter and a bemused, gentle mirth in Peter’s low, gravelly tone, leaving Evan stuck between listening and leaving, both curious and afraid of what he might overhear.

“Don’t tell him, Pete, ‘cos I can’t handle justifying all his fussing. But I don’t know how I’d have got through this without him,” he hears, and Evan feels a lump form in his throat, that he quickly forces down.

“You too,” Tom adds, and from the rustling sound that follows, Evan’s sure Tom’s reached out to pat Peter on the shoulder, or something.

“Evan wouldn’t leave your side, Tom, not for a second. When we were in the hospital waiting for you to wake up, I had to drag him out of your room to make him take even a five second break. He was terrified for you. Kept telling me, he wished he could take your place there, wished he could be going through it all for you. And though I would do anything for you, help you in any way I can, it’s been… difficult. To have to hear him talking like that. It’s probably selfish, but… I’ve felt so helpless,” Peter finishes with a sigh, and Evan wants to walk in and wrap his arms around his shoulders, tell him how vital he’s been to him throughout all of this.

“You’ve been here for Evan.” Tom answers, stealing his words. “That is far from being helpless,” Evan hears Tom reply, imagines his smile, and closes his eyes, grateful that Tom is finally smiling again.

“He’d be lost without you too, you know?” Tom adds, and Evan freezes at his words, desperate to know Peter’s response.

There is a pause, but finally Peter gives a soft, breathy sigh that sounds like acknowledgement, and answers quietly with, “As would I without him.”

“You guys need to talk stuff out, you know,” Tom tells him, and Evan thinks he can picture Peter shuffling in discomfort.

“It’s not really the time, Tom. We need you to concentrate on getting better, more than anything else.” Peter’s tone is decided, and firm, adamant he’s right in his thinking. He is right, Evan agrees, but it doesn’t stop his heart sinking a little, even if he’s not worked up the courage to do anything about this – them, himself.

“Pete,” Tom’s talking in that gentle, patient, explaining-to-an-idiot tone of his, and Evan kind of loves him for it. “I’ve known you for… it feels like all my life. You two have been friends since forever now, and it’s obvious to anyone with eyes that there’s something between you even if you pretend that there isn’t. If you keep thinking about it like that, that now’s not really the time, there’s never gonna be a right time. So why not make it the right time now? What is it the two of you are waiting for?”

Evan doesn’t want to hear Peter’s answer, too scared it will be the confirmation of rejection, so chooses that moment to go in with the tray of food he’s prepared. But it’s not like Tom’s words don’t play over and over for Evan, or stop him sneaking continual glances in Peter’s direction for the rest of the day. Or give him any chance of sleep later that night.

When he’s admitted sleep is just not going to be happening for him, Evan gets up, sighing heavily at the early hour glaring back at him on his phone, and pads through to the living room, expecting to find Peter stoically asleep on the sofa where he’s taking up what feels like just as much permanent residence as Tom. But Peter is sat at the dining table, his face illuminated by the screen of his laptop, and his eyes raise at the sound of Evan entering the room.

“Can’t sleep,” Evan offers in answer to Peter’s silent question, “What are you doing?”

Peter pauses, then reaches over to flick on a lamp on the table, and silently closes the laptop lid.

“Nothing much,” he says, coming around to lean back against the table, his hands wrapping around the edge, as he watches Evan. “Couldn’t sleep either,”

Evan watches back.

The silence remains heavy, loaded with unspoken questions. And Evan decides he can’t stand just watching anymore, so takes a courageous step forward. He bends slightly to cup Peter’s face and tilt it up, slow to give him time to resist if that’s what he wants to do. And then Evan leans down, claiming Peter’s mouth in a kiss that feels very, very long overdue. Peter’s hands are immediately around his waist, gripping Evan as he adjusts the way he stands between his legs, and pulling him as close as he can get.

The silence between them might not be filled with words, but there’s soft gasps and gentle exploration in their place, and that adds more to the sense Evan has of them finally getting somewhere. Evan feels hopeful, and humble, and more than anything, home. And when they pull apart to catch their breath, Peter’s smile for him repeats the same thing back.

***

When Tom walks through in the morning, rubbing a tired hand down his face, he comes to a stop at the foot of the sofa, his head tilting to one side as he considers the view in front of him.

On the sofa lays Peter on his back, with Evan tangled between his legs and wrapped up in his arms, fast asleep in the crook of Peter’s neck.

Peter looks at Tom, and Tom looks on back at Peter, and where Peter’s smile is small and a little timid, Tom’s is wide, and beaming happiness.

They nod at each other in unspoken acceptance of the change in circumstances between them all, before Tom turns and heads into the kitchen, a spring in his step and a hum in this mouth. He rinses the cafetiere, measuring out a generous amount of coffee, then settles it down on the side, fingers drumming as he considers adding another spoon.

Tom pulls down two mugs from a shelf, leans over to fill the kettle, then leans back against the counter, a gentle smile lingering around his lips for how ecstatic he feels for his brother. And with that smile, and a barrage of teasing already forming in his head, he turns around, and reaches for a third.