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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6. CHAPTER FOUR| Blush

 

Ben knew a lot about many things. He knew a lot about history, for example. Not all history, because that would be a broad, sweeping statement that was bound to be disproved, just the stuff he found interesting. Jack the Ripper. The Halls-Mills murders.

One thing Ben didn’t know much about was what to do when you found half an old school rubber in your twin brother’s ventilation tubes.

Freak out, most likely. Scream until your lungs turned to dust and every sound you made threatened to be the last.

Ben was about to try out a scream or two when he shook his head, sighing and thinking better of it. Screaming never helped anyone – not unless you were auditioning for an up-and-coming heavy metal band and needed to show off your vocals.

He sat cross legged on the double bed that took up almost three quarters of the darkened room, feeling insignificant and small without Seb there beside him. Some people found it weird that they’d still shared a bed at sixteen, but Ben never saw it that way. They were twins, they were close, and sharing a bed was merely an offshoot of that closeness.

Before his accident, Seb had been starting to talk about getting a room – and a bed – to himself. Ben had been annoyed at the time – why couldn’t things just be left as they were? – but now he saw there were far worse things than having a room to himself.

Like, you know, his brother being in a coma and someone trying to kill him with a school rubber.

The police’ll look into it. That’s what Nurse Simpson had said. It was probably just a stupid prank, anyway.

Ben rolled onto his side and closed his eyes. Whatever. It was half past seven and he had nothing better to do. Now that Seb had gone and got his life put on hold, Ben couldn’t help but do the same to his own. Kind of pathetic, really.

Whatever. He was going to sleep.

His phone beeped from the corner of the room, its screen flashing on and bathing Ben’s world in a harsh beam. He blinked fuzzily, unaccustomed to the light, staggering over to see who’d texted him.

He expected Leanne, mainly because it always seemed to be Leanne. She’d probably be trying to apologise to him for what happened at school. She’d been friends with Ben long enough to know that saying sorry really wasn’t his thing, and that was why the responsibility always fell to her.

It wasn’t Leanne.

The text was from Whisper, which filled Ben with a sense of unspeakable dread. The creeping sort of dread, that seems silly and small at first, but gets bigger and scarier much the same way that an exam you haven’t revised for gets scarier the closer you get to the deadline.

Ben cursed. He’d remembered that he’d been meant to go to Whisper’s house only about half an hour ago – and when you say you’re going to go to your friend’s house after school, it’s not exactly good manners to waltz round there at seven o’clock. Ben had decided it was best to just leave it.

It was one of his more common talents: hiding from the problem when he should have been confronting it.

Ben shoved the phone away from him on reflex, before reminding himself that behaving like that made him seem like a five year old boy. He was sixteen. Practically a man. He could read one goddamn tiny text and to hell with feeling sorry for himself. He’d been preoccupied with important stuff, and if Whisper was mad at him then Ben would just have to make him understand.

Ben clicked on Whisper’s name to read the message.

‘If you wanted to cancel, you could have just called.’

It was stupid. The first thing that struck Ben, upon reading the text, was the way Whisper had used perfect grammar. In a text. Right down to the last full stop. Ben ruffled his hair appreciatively. Grammar, huh? You didn’t see that so much these days.

Shut up, Ben told himself. Who cares if the guy can spell or not. You sound like you’re screening him to be your boyfr-

Ben didn’t let himself finish that thought. In fact, if there was a Thought Police, that particular thought would already have been escorted behind bars. Ben could feel himself blushing, his cheeks gradually turning pink. Moving on.

What mattered was that Whisper sounded angry with him. Whisper, currently one of Ben’s only friends, was angry with him. It was hard to sugar-coat the fact that it was all Ben’s own fault.

If Ben’s life had been a tacky D-list movie, this would have been the moment where he ran out of the house wearing only one shoe, frenziedly driving the half a mile to Whisper’s. As it was, Ben did not have the guts to do something quite so mindlessly extravagant (and plus, people only did that for love interests, which Whisper so totally wasn’t) so Ben settled for phoning Whisper back, instead.

Whisper didn’t pick up.

Of course he wouldn’t, thought Ben bitterly. Why would he?

After trying again yielded the same result, Ben thought about it, and decided he had way too much on his mind to sleep. Another forty seconds of more thinking, and Ben came to the conclusion that the only people he could really ask for advice were his parents.

And that would be all levels of weird. Weren’t teenagers supposed to do anything to keep stuff away from the parents? It couldn’t be helped. Ben would just have to go about it in a roundabout way.

He mooched out of his room and down the stairs, looking for his mother.

She was sitting in the living room, tapping away at her laptop. Her forehead was creased a little in the middle, her hair scraped back into a messy ponytail that seemed more suited to a schoolgirl than an adult woman.

Her head snapped up as Ben walked in, and she shut the laptop with a start. “Ben!”

“Mum… You seem…kind of flustered…”

His mother shook her head, laughing a little. “No, no. I’ve just got stuff to do, you know, so much stuff to do.” She smiled, and it only seemed a tiny bit forced. Ben’s mother held a part-time job at a law firm as well as looking after her permanently ailing husband. It was no surprise that she seemed so constantly rushed. “Was there something you wanted? I’m just a little busy right now, darling…”

Ben bit his lip. “It’s only… Uh…”

His mother stared at him expectantly. There was a twitch at the corner of her mouth that Ben had never noticed before. He found himself drawn to it, fascinated, until his mother cleared her throat and he snapped back to reality.

“Yes, erm… Say, if you had a job. A really good job that you really wanted to do. But then, on your first day of work, you forgot about your job – for, um, a really good reason - and didn’t go to your office. And your boss got mad at you. What would you do?”

“You shouldn’t have forgotten,” said his mother immediately. “I’d phone in as soon as possible and apologise. That’s if they hadn’t already told you to get lost. Why?”

“What if I’d already tried that and it didn’t work? If no one at the office picked up?”

“There probably wouldn’t be anything else you could do. The workplace would fire you.”

“But what if you really wanted the job and had a really good reason you forgot about it?”

Ben’s mother looked at him curiously. “Is this about some girl or something, Benedict?”

Ben coughed, blushed, and coughed again. “No! A… A job. A hypothetical job.”

“You’d be fired from a job, for sure,” said his mother. “But, say,” she arched an eyebrow, “if it were a girl you liked that wasn’t answering your calls, I’d try and explain things to her face to face.”

“Really?”

“Yep.” Ben’s mother shot a longing look at the laptop on her knees. “Now, I really need to-“

“Fiona?” She was cut off by a voice from upstairs. “Fiona, can you heat up this water bottle again? Fiona?”

“That’s Dad,” said Ben, pointing out the obvious as his mother made no attempt to move.

“Yes,” said his mother simply. “He’s been shouting all day, haven’t you heard him since you got in? I just reheated his bottle an hour or two ago, anyway.” She turned away from Ben so her feet rested on the brown leather sofa, opening up her laptop. “Maybe you could do it, this time?”

Ben took that as his cue to leave the room.

Actually, he took it as his cue to leave the house. His mother had said that talking face to face would work best, and that was exactly what Ben planned to do. So, he realised ironically, as he shrugged on his duffel coat, and picked up the keys to his mother’s car (Seb had wrecked Ben’s own), his life was turning into a D list movie after all.

Ben supposed he could work with that. He couldn’t bear to think about the time he’d played Hamlet in year seven and the rest of the class had called him ‘Woody’ for another four weeks. ‘Woody’ referencing a literal plank of wood, because that was the best summary of Ben’s limited acting ability.

But Seb always used to tell people Ben had the looks for acting, anyway, if not the talent. That was just Seb being vain, but when people agreed with him, Ben couldn’t help but feel the nice fuzzy kind of embarrassment that reminded him of drinking hot cocoa in the winter.

The car journey to Whisper’s house was quiet, but there might as well have been an opera singer and a couple of angry politicians in the back seat for all the peace of mind it brought Ben. Was he doing the right thing? He couldn’t just show up to Whisper’s house out of nowhere, like this. This was stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He should just turn around and go home. It was already eight o’clock already, for God’s sake. Whisper might even have gone out.

Ben checked his phone to make sure he’d got the right address, and pulled up outside Whisper’s house. It was squat and brick and looked much too austere a place for someone as vibrant as Whisper to live in. Ben wondered what Whisper’s parents were like.

Remind me, said the voice inside Ben’s head that he was pretty sure wasn’t in a psychopathic way, why are you doing this again? Ben shook his head, steeled himself, and went to ring the bell.

His hand hovered over the round white button for what could have been ten seconds or ten minutes, but finally culminated in a voice from above him shouting “Go on then, what are you waiting for? Ring the bell!”

Ben jumped forwards, hitting his elbow off the wall. Looking upwards, he saw a tall man with long braided hair leaning out of the upstairs window of Whisper’s house. He had a long, drooping moustache that gave him the outward impression of a walrus, and a stud earing through his right lobe.

He had a very striking resemblance to Whisper. Ben didn’t need to hire a detective to deduce that this man was Whisper’s father.

The fact that this guy was Whisper’s father made everything very awkward. Mainly because he was nothing like Ben had grown up to recognise father figures as looking like, but also because he probably had no idea who Ben was, and even less idea what he was doing at his house at eight pm.

“Er… Yes, sorry,” mumbled Ben, who rang the bell hastily. The window shut with a decisive fwap, and was followed by the sound of a horde of baby dinosaurs running down the stairs. When the front door was flung open, Ben almost expected to see a cute little tyrannosaurus rex raring up to try and eat him.

Instead, it was only Whisper’s father. This, here, was the type of guy that named their child Whisper. Or maybe it wasn't him. Maybe it was his wife. Either way, Ben was uneasy.

“Welcome!” he said, in the plummy sort of accent his appearance belied. “Please, come in! You’re Ben, I suppose? I’ve heard all about you!”

“Y… You know me? Uh, Mr Anderson?”

The man tipped back his head and guffawed. “Know you? You’re all Whisper talks about these days.” He paused, then added as an afterthought, “And call me Merridew, call me Merridew.”

“Um…” Ben shook his head, at a loss at what to say. “I… I was wondering if Whisper was at home.”

“No, no, he’s gone out. Home-schooled disabled kids with an affinity for reading biology textbooks are all the rage at house parties, you know.”

“What?”

“I’m joking, I’m joking! Don’t look so shocked!” Merridew chuckled to himself. “You should see your face right now. Yes, Whisper’s in. He’s the one who spotted you outside the house just now, but he refused to come to the window. Much less the door. Apparently you were supposed to come round here earlier, but you didn’t show up.” He wagged his finger mockingly. “Tut tut, Ben. Still, you’re here now, I suppose.”

Ben swallowed, trying to sort through Merridew’s jet stream of words. “Er… Could I, um, speak to Whisper? Please?”

“Hmmm? Whisper? Well, he said that he didn’t want to see you, but I suppose that he wouldn’t have told me who you were if he didn’t want to let you in the house… Whisper wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t think he could be persuaded to talk to you, so…”

“So, uh, I can see him, then? I… I kind of need to apologise.”

Merridew waved a hand. “Go ahead, go ahead. His room’s just through there.”

“Right. Thanks,” said Ben in relief, following where Merridew was pointing. The door he came to was not particularly unusual – just, you know, a normal wooden door – but to Ben it seemed like an opening to a whole new world. And it was, he supposed. Through this door was Whisper’s entire life, laid out for Ben to see, a map of Whisper’s past and present and future that Ben would be able to read if he only looked in the right places.

The prospect wasn’t just daunting, it was flat out terrifying.

He reached out a hand and quickly knocked on the door.

The answer was immediate, though muffled. “Ben?”

“Yeah. It’s me. I’m sorry I came round so late.”

“It’s fine.”

“Can I come in?”

Whisper didn’t reply. Ben shifted from foot to foot outside the door, feeling as awkward as an out-of-place penguin in the middle of the Sahara.

“Whisper?”

“What is it?”

“I’m really sorry, man.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m not just saying that. I mean it. I’m really sorry. I should have texted you or something.”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Can I come in now? You’re making me talk to a door. I look crazy.”

Silence.

“Whisper?”

Silence.

Whisper?”

A scuffling sound came from the other side of the door, and then Whisper’s voice. “Can you just forget it, Ben? I understand. You’ve got better things to do than hang out with the kid in the wheelchair.”

“No! No, you don’t understand! It wasn’t that I didn’t want to come round, I just forgot because-“

“Wow, you really know how to make someone feel good, Ben. You forgot? I mean, I figured as much, but you didn’t have to go and say so.”

Ben gritted his teeth in frustration. “Stop feeling so goddamn sorry for yourself!” He slammed his hands against the door, forgetting where he was. “I forgot because my brother almost died today! I forgot because that’s a bigger thing to me than whether I go to my friend’s house or not!”

“Oh,” said Whisper eventually. “Oh.”

Ben shook his head, fighting to keep his voice calm. “Look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have-“

“No. I shouldn’t have.” Whisper sounded broken, defeated. “Come in, I guess.”

Ben walked into the room. It was painted bright green, and cast a shadow on Whisper’s face that made him seem to almost radiate the colour. Whisper lay on a single bed, and across from that was a book shelf which seemed to be filled almost entirely with picture books and non-fiction.

Whisper spoke to Ben without turning to look at him. “Sorry. I should have known you’d have a good reason.”

“It’s alright. I should have texted you or something.”

Whisper sucked in his breath clumsily. “Yeah. Your brother’s okay now, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

 “You read a lot?” asked Ben suddenly, gesturing at the strange mix of titles on Whisper’s bookshelf. The Hungry Caterpillar. A Natural History of Dolphins and Porpoises. Spot the Dog. It was weird. “Isn’t some of that stuff for, you know, little kids?”

Whisper shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess it’s supposed to be. Oh, you can sit down, by the way.”

Ben obliged, perching uneasily at the foot of Whisper’s bed. “But why do you read it, then?”

“I don’t know.” He laughed. “You’d think I get asked that a lot, but not enough people have actually been in my room to ask me. I suppose… I think I just want to pretend I’m a little kid still. And then all the non-fiction’s mostly for studying. To bring me back down to earth.”

“Cool,” said Ben. It was funny, because so many people said ‘cool’ as a way to end a conversation, to show people that they’re not interested. But Ben, Ben genuinely thought Whisper was cool. So that’s why he said the word again. “Cool.”

“What sort of books do you read?”

“Detective stuff mostly. Or classics, but not the really stuffy kind.”

“You mean not the kind that sounds like the author was writing with a burning hot poker up their ass.”

Ben laughed. “Yeah. That.”

“Cool,” said Whisper, smiling. “That’s really cool, Ben.”

For a moment, Ben had an internal panic about whether Whisper was saying ‘cool’ because he actually meant it, or because he thought Ben was a boring pile of shit. Still… There was something about the way Whisper smiled, as if the stars had taken up residence in the corners of his eyes, which made Ben certain it was the former. Or at least, 85% certain.

That was nice. It was nice that Whisper thought he was cool. Ben basked in the moment, in the word, in Whisper’s gaze.

“Ben.”

“Huh?”

“You’re blushing.”

“What? I, uh, no I’m not!”

“Yeah, you are.” Whisper grinned, looking at Ben sidelong. “You know, I once read this thing that said that blushing was just like having a boner. Except, you know, on your face.”

Ben went redder, his mouth opening slightly.

Whisper laughed.  “I’m only messing with you. You’ve got to get a handle on that blush though, or everyone will know what you’re thinking all the time.”

“Hah… “ Ben felt like pulling his hair across his face like a curtain. Then he rolled his eyes, thought what the hell, and pulled his hair over his face. Like a curtain.

Whisper’s laugh bounced off the walls of the room, beautiful and discordant at the same time. “What are you doing? You look like some kind of assassin.”

Ben gasped out a laugh. “What kind of assassin masks themselves with their own hair? That’s ridiculous.”

“You’re ridiculous. Why make a mask out of your hair? You’d look better using it as a moustache.”

“Wait, what?” Ben shook his head incredulously, letting his hair fall back down into its usual shiny black waterfall to his shoulders.

“Come here,” said Whisper, pulling himself to a sitting position. “I’ll show you.” Ben shuffled along the bed to sit beside Whisper, who looped a lock of Ben’s hair round his finger and pulled it across Ben’s upper lip. “There. Moustache.”

Ben shivered at his touch. Whisper’s hands were freezing.

“Okay, you better be impressed,” said Whisper, pointing out a mirror for Ben to examine his reflection in.

“Hmmm. Could be better.”

“Are you kidding? You look so good I’m considering growing my hair long just so I can make a moustache like yours.”

“Or you could just grow a moustache. You know, normally.”

“That’s assuming I’m ever going to grow that much facial hair. I’m smooth as a baby, man.”

“True.” Ben paused, his expression growing pained. “Hey, Whisper?”

“Uh-huh?”

“Seb – that’s my brother – his ventilation tube had a novelty rubber stuck in it. Someone must have put it there, you know? Stuff like that doesn’t just magically appear in ventilation tubes.” Ben shook his head. “I don’t know. This doctor guy at the hospital said the police were going to look into it.”

“Woah. Seriously, woah.” Whisper put his head in his hands in disbelief. “Jesus Christ,” he whispered, giving off a low whistle. “You mean, they think someone’s actually trying to kill him?”

“Someone’s actually trying to kill him, yeah. With a goddamned novelty rubber.”

“Wow. Wow, okay. The police. That’s big, you know?” Whisper took off his glasses, cleaning them on his t-shirt. “This is… Woah.”

“Yeah. And I was thinking, maybe his car crash somehow wasn’t an accident after all.”

“His car crash? That’s what put him in the coma, right?”

“Yeah. And also, I found his driving licence at school earlier today. Not in his locker or anything, but sticking up out of a park bench. But when I checked my pockets later, it was gone.”

“Did you drop it somewhere?”

“Maybe. But I think someone took it. There was this girl I met after school on the way to the hospital. I think she was one of Seb’s friends, but I didn’t know her. ”

“If she knew him she could have a motive, and I guess that means she could have dropped the driving license at your school or something, if that’s where she goes…” Whisper shook his head. “I mean, that fits… But… This is crazy.”

“But you agree with me?”

“I think you should tell the police this stuff.”

Ben’s jaw stiffened. “Couldn’t we try and stop the people ourselves, just the two of us?”

“Bloody… No way. No way! This isn’t a mystery novel, Ben! We don’t know anything about solving crimes!”

“I’ll tell the police everything. I just think that we should try and solve this too.”

“What the… No. Your brother’s life isn’t a game, Ben! I know that all this trauma and stuff is probably screwing your thinking, but-“

Ben raised an eyebrow, eyes blazing. “I’m not treating it like a game. I want us to try and find out who’s trying to kill my brother because I want revenge, Whisper. Revenge. They might be the people who put him in a coma. They might have orchestrated the whole thing – everything – and I’ve been blaming myself for weeks about it.”

Whisper bit his lip. “You sound crazy.”

“I’m being serious!”

Throwing up his hands, Whisper puffed out his cheeks, blowing out a stream of air that tasted like exasperation and giving up. “Okay, okay. Fine. But I’m only going along with this because you’re cute and I like you and I want to prove you wrong.”

Ben almost choked on his ‘thank you’. “What!”

Whisper laughed. “See. You’re blushing again.”

 

-

WHISPER

A ROMANCE BY MIRLOTTA


//cover by @anna mv.\\

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