Whisper

//He had a smile on his face like the climax of a novel, and his kisses were the chorus to a treasured favourite song.\\

Benedict has lived six months in a ragged half existence, torn apart after his twin brother's accident. Still, when he meets Whisper, the happy-go-lucky boy in the wheelchair who volunteers at his support group, Benedict starts to realise that maybe it isn't totally impossible for him to begin enjoying life again. It's only after the two uncover some incriminating evidence that Ben understands that his brother's car crash wasn't quite so accidental as he originally thought.

\\The amazing, beautiful, wonderful cover is by @violets//

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20. CHAPTER EIGHTEEN| Drowning

 

When he got home, Ben first of all ignored his mother pleading with him (and then shouting when he didn't answer her). In the spirit of ignoring people, Ben then went on to fully blank his father, who was calling him 'Seb', anyway. Then, once he got to his bedroom, Ben wholly intended to blank Leanne, as well, who was sitting cross legged on the middle of his carpet-

And then his jaw physically dropped open and all his plans to forget the world were displaced by fairly discombobulating thoughts along the lines of 'LEANNE, YOU'RE MY BEST FRIEND AND EVERYTHING BUT, LIKE, I REALLY WANT YOU TO RESPECT MY PERSONAL SPACE AND GET OUT OF MY ROOM- AND WHILE WE'RE ON THE SUBJECT, WHAT DO YOU EVEN THINK YOU'RE DOING IN MY ROOM IN THE FIRST PLACE? AND ALSO, ANOTHER THING-'

"Hi, Ben," said Leanne, as if she sat down unannounced on his bedroom carpet on a day to day basis. "Your mum let me in. And she made cookies, and she let me have some, which was nice. Your mum's so nice in general, actually." 

Ben gritted his teeth, eyeing her carefully. She better not have eaten the cookies on his carpet.

He swallowed. "Leanne," he said, slowly. The way he dragged the word out, it was like he expected some perfectly reasonable answer for Leanne invading his room to simply stroll into existence and apologise for being late to the party. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, because things were never that easy. Ben swallowed again, and figured he'd have to ask Leanne himself. "Leanne," he said, again, struggling to keep his voice calm. "For God's sake- what the hell are you doing in my room?" 

Leanne stared at him as if he was a complete and utter idiot. "Isn't it kind of obvious?"

"Um, no, not really. Not at all, in fact," said Ben, trying not to snap at her. "Go ahead and point out why you're here. For all the people who can't see the obvious like you can." 

"Find your chill, Ben. You sound like a giant elephant just sat on your stomach and all your chill just, like, deflated or something." 

For all Ben's well intended attempts not to snap at Leanne, she was making it increasingly difficult to keep this good nature up. 

"I am totally chill, Leanne. I am more chill than the definition of chill in the dictionary, and right now I really need to know why you're in my room. Before I, you know, kick you out of it. Or something."

"Was that a threat?" asked Leanne, curiously. 

Ben sighed, gritting his teeth. "Yes. Yes, it was a threat. Why are you here?"

Leanne looked at him in what Ben supposed was meant to be a stern expression, raising one expertly plucked eyebrow. People didn't normally expect her to take pride in her appearance, by some weird logic that just because she was chubby, she couldn't also be among the prettiest girls in her year. Because she was trying not to laugh, right now, her eyebrows wobbled up and down a little- like they were drunk, and in immediate danger of falling off her face. 

She stood up, then sat down with a huff on his bed. "I can't believe you have a boyfriend and you didn't even tell me," she pouted, sticking her lower lip out. 

Ben blinked. "What?"

"Your boyfriend! I can't believe you didn't tell me- I'm your best friend, Ben. You're meant to tell me stuff like this." 

"I-"

"Oh, don't even try and deny it. He's called Whisper, right?" She pulled a face. "What kind of a name is that? I bet he gets really bullied at school."

Ben coughed, spluttering slightly. "He gets home schooled, actually. By his mum." 

"Right, okay, I see. Is she a teacher?"

Frowning, Ben thought of Olivia, Whisper's mother. "Um... Actually, I have no idea. She uses carrots as hair pins, though." 

Ben's mother would never use carrots as hairpins. Ben's mother was an entirely respectable woman in an entirely respectable job- at least, Ben had thought so until he'd read all those stupid 'Dan x' emails. Did respectable women cheat on their husbands? Ben bit his lip, unsure of his convictions. His mum had said she didn't know anything about Dan, whoever he was. And then Whisper... Whisper had texts from him, too. Texts he shouldn't have had; texts addressed to Sarah, Whisper's mum. 

"Weird," said Leanne. "Wouldn't they just fall out? Maybe she glues the carrots to her head." 

Ben shrugged absentmindedly. "Maybe." He was still thinking about his mother. 

"So," continued Leanne, oblivious to Ben's innermost ramblings. "So, when can I meet him? Whisper, I mean." She looked at her wristwatch - Leanne always had a watch; she was very prepared like that - and then shoved it under Ben's nose. It was so close that he could barely read the time; the bright, digital numbers seemed to sear into his brain like they were made up of blades.

Leanne grinned enthusiastically. That was another thing about her: she was always prepared, and she was always enthusiastic. "It's only two o'clock now, see. You should invite him round."

"I- actually, I've been with him all morning. We were at the hospital, with Seb... And-" 

Leanne's expression snapped into seriousness. "Is Seb okay? I haven't visited him for almost two weeks now." 

This was news to Ben. He hadn't realised that Leanne had been visiting Seb at all. 

He sighed heavily, raking his hands through his hair. It needed a wash- badly. "No, he's fine. Seb's fine. Ish. Just, like..." 

"What?" 

"People are trying to kill him." 

"What?" 

"I said: people are trying to kill him." 

Leanne wet her lips, staring at Ben. "Yes, yes, I heard what you said. But... I mean... How can you know that? Are you sure? Who is it? Why?" She shook her head, long tendrils of hair flying loose from her tightly wound top-knot. "God-" She blew out a gust of air in sudden anger, throwing her hands up in the air. "See, this is what I mean, Ben! You have to tell me these things! I care as well, you know? Seb was my friend- he still is my friend!"

"Sorry," said Ben, and he was surprised to realise that he was. He really, really was. "God, Leanne, I'm sorry, okay? Last night he was lying in a bed full of glass, that's how I'm goddamn sure." 

"A bed full of glass?"

Ben ignored her - he was getting good at ignoring people - and ploughed on. "I have an idea who's trying to kill him, too- you know Darren, July's boyfriend, right? And I mean, I have no clue why, but I mean, the who is a start, right? And apparently there's some kind of PI looking into all this, but they've been such a fat lot of good that there's already been two attempts on Seb's life- maybe more that I don't know, about, I don't know, but-"

"Two attempts?"

Ben nodded, irritated. "That's what I said, didn't I?" Leanne was beginning to sound like an annoying little kid playing that game where you copy whatever anyone else says. Seb had had a theory that that game was contributing to the end of original thought. It was ironic, really, that Seb's theory was probably parroted straight from Darren, and that lot. 

"Ben," said Leanne, shakily. It was funny, thought Ben, because Leanne's voice never shook. She always sounded firm, always in control. Ben had found himself wishing far too often that he could be more like his best friend. 

"I know I should have told you. I know. I'm sorry." 

"Yeah," said Leanne, shaking her head in disbelief. "Hell, you should have told me first. That's what friends are for, you know?" 

"Yeah." 

"Yeah?" Leanne steeled her jaw. She made a whole big show of it- clenching her fists, and jutting her chin out. "You want to do something about all this, right? To help Seb?"

Ben sat down beside her on the bed, suddenly out of breath. That was the thing with keeping everything bottled up: you held it inside you until it consumed every other part of you, became everything you were. And then, when you finally let it out again, that was it. You were emptied, like your life had never been more than the contents of a rubbish bin. 

It wasn't self pitying for Ben to believe that his personal rubbish bin smelt worse than most. 

"Yeah," he said softly. "Yeah, I want to help Seb. And I've been trying." He'd been trying. 

"Whisper knows all this stuff, right?" 

"Whisper?" Ben blinked. "All of it, I think." Not all the Dan x stuff though. Or at least, Ben had never properly explained anything, and Whisper hadn't asked. At the time, Ben had thought that Whisper was simply trying to spare his feelings - or maybe he simply just didn't care - but after seeing the text on Whisper's phone... Did he know more than he was letting on? Ben shook his head, dispelling these thoughts. Whisper was... Whisper. Whisper was Whisper, and Ben couldn't let his stupid tendency to jump to conclusions tear them apart. 

Leanne looked at Ben. "Are you sure? You don't sound sure. How much does Whisper know?" 

 Ben swallowed. "Well. He knows most of it, anyway."

"Right. Good. That's perfect," said Leanne. "Call him."

"What?" 

"Call him!" Agitated, Leanne tapped her hands against her legs. She played the drums; it was likely the rhythm to the piece she was currently working on. All the pieces sounded the same to Ben. "Tell him to come round here now." 

"But what if he won't-"

"He'll come, Ben! He has to!"

"But why do we even need him to-"

"Seriously, Ben, stop with the objections." Leanne clapped her hands together loudly, and in a bigger room the sound would have reverberated- bouncing off the walls like walls were just obstacles to use as leverage. "We've got time right now, stacks of it. And in that time we can actually get stuff done, you know? We can sort out what we need to do to help Seb- and we need Whisper here as well because three heads are better than two. Also, because I really want to meet him." 

She paused for breath, and Ben glanced at her admiringly. No wonder she'd been on the school council every year since he'd first met her. Just having Leanne in the room made Ben want to actually get things done, instead of just thinking about them. 

"Okay," said Ben, pulling his phone from his jeans pocket. "Right, I'll text him now." 

"Good, and tell him to hurry." Leanne smoothed down her skirt, speaking quickly without looking at Ben. "While we're waiting for him to arrive, you can fill me in on everything you know again. Slowly, this time. Seriously, Ben, you're terrible at explaining." 

"I was trying to be time efficient," mumbled Ben. "And you can't really hold it against me. I was kind of still getting over the shock of walking into my bedroom and seeing you waiting for me, cross legged in the middle of the carpet." 

"Mmm," said Leanne. "Have you texted Whisper yet?" 

Ben rolled his eyes. Leanne was brilliant at focusing on a problem, but terrible at properly listening to other people. "Yeah," he answered, "yeah, I'm texting him now." 

"Good," said Leanne, then stopped short. "Ben," she said with pity, "I don't know if you've realised, but your hands are shaking." 

Because I'm scared, Leanne. Because I'm so terrified of everything, and I can't even breathe without fortune's wind blowing dust down my throat. Because my brother's a victim of attempted murder, and I'm not sure whether my mother cares about my family anymore- and because Whisper, the only constant in the middle of my own personal sandstorm, might be the least constant thing about it. 

Ben said none of this to Leanne. He chose to shrug, because words were difficult to find these days, and choosing the right words even harder. As he dropped his phone onto the covers beside him, Leanne reached for his shaking hand, steadying it. 

It reminded Ben of a day by a lake, long ago. He'd swam out with his brother in about as much clothing as common sense- and when she'd pulled them both to safety, a little girl called Leanne had held Ben's hand. 

Eight years later, he clung to that girl's same hand like a mute man clinging to words; like a blind man remembering colour. Eight years later, and Leanne was still saving Ben from drowning in all the things he hadn't discovered. 

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