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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21. CHAPTER NINETEEN| Scream

 

The doorbell rang disjointedly, like someone was choking on it.

Leanne jumped to her feet with about as much grace as a large dromedary camel falling out of a tree. The floor shook, and Ben almost expected a hole to fall out of the carpet and his mother’s head to peer up at them, wearing its stock ‘WHAT THE HELL HAVE YOU DONE TO MY CEILING, CHILDREN?’ expression. That wasn’t to say that Ben and Leanne had ever broken her ceiling before- just, Ben supposed his mother was probably concealing the expression somewhere in her repertoire.

What with all the Dan x stuff, Ben wondered how many more things he didn’t know about his mother.

Tugging at his arm, Leanne dragged him through his bedroom door. “That’ll be Whisper, right? Come on, Ben, stop looking at me like you don’t want me to meet your boyfriend!” She stopped short, peering at him closely. “You are fine with me meeting him, right? It’ll be so much easier to sort everything out with three instead of two. Plus, I don’t think you understand how much I want to meet him. Do you think he’s good looking? Come on, say-”

Ben rolled his eyes. “Yes.”

“What? He’s good looking? I knew it! I knew-”

What? No, I meant that I was fine with you meeting him… But, I mean, yes, he’s good looking- at least I think so, anyway, but-”

“Stop rambling,” ordered Leanne, grinning at him and tugging him down the stairs. She was stronger than she realised, and by the time they got to the door Ben was debating whether his arm would fall off within a) the next five seconds, or b) the next thirty. (Neither, luckily. Or unluckily, if you have a fetish for people with falling off limbs, but that’s beside the point.)

Ben unlatched the chain and opened the door.

“Hi,” said Whisper, with a little wave. “You texted saying to come here immediate-” His words trailed off into an indistinct ‘oof’ as Leanne threw her arms round his shoulders in greeting. Inside the bright red car pulling away from the drive, Ben saw Whisper’s parents laughing to themselves.

“Um,” said Whisper, sounding more than a little strangled. “Um. Do I know you? I’m Whisper.”

Leanne pulled away. “Sorry,” she said unapologetically. “You don’t know me, but Ben already told me your name anyway. I guess I was just kind of a little over excited to meet you. At last.” She turned a mocking glare on Ben.

He pulled a face. He probably should have warned Whisper that Leanne was here beforehand, but hadn’t thought to mention it in his text. “This is Leanne,” he told Whisper, gesturing at her. “She’s my best friend. You’ll like her. Probably, anyway.”

“Probably?” cut in Leanne, raising her eyebrows sarcastically.

Ben ignored her. “It was Leanne’s idea to ask you to come round here. I’ve told her about all the stuff with Seb, and Dan x, and July, and-”

July?” interjected Leanne. “She’s my friend! She’s in my French class! What’s she even got to do with this?”

Ben winced. “Okay, so maybe I haven’t told her about July. Yet. Yet. But… We’re glad you’re here, Whisper. I’m glad you’re here.” That is, thought Ben, if I ignore the fact you have messages addressed to my mother on your phone.

“Yep,” said Leanne. “You’re going to be really helpful in sorting all this crap out that Ben’s been going on about.”

“Hopefully,” said Whisper genially, and then: “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

Whisper smiled, and for a second Ben forgot all his doubts about mysterious text messages on Whisper’s phone. Whisper’s smile was so beautiful, Ben supposed he could just sit in his back garden and flash a little hint of teeth and everyone from school girls to the very old would flock there, just for a chance to witness it. It was the kind of smile that deserved an entire museum in its celebration.

Ben coughed, clearing his throat a little awkwardly. “Want to come in, then?” He stepped aside, Leanne following him and letting Whisper wheel himself through the door before she closed it. It wasn’t until they got to the stairs leading up to his bedroom that Ben realised that there was a problem.

“Shit.”

Whisper followed his gaze, smiling weakly. “I know, right? This is me every time I have to go somewhere without a ramp or easy access.”

Leanne glanced at them both. “What?” Ben nodded towards the stairs, then at Whisper. Leanne nodded slowly, sucking in her breath. “Oh. Oh. Can’t we do plotting and solving mysteries downstairs?”

Ben shook his head reluctantly. “My mum might walk in. If we’re going to be looking through her emails at the Dan x stuff…” He frowned, shaking his head. He hadn’t told Leanne about the messages he’d found on Whisper’s phone yet, and it probably seemed weird to her that he wanted to start with the thing that seemed least related to his brother. “I mean, I was just thinking- my mum says she doesn’t know anything about Dan x- and, like, what if she doesn’t? It could be all like a… Like a…”

Leanne clapped her hands, nodding enthusiastically. “Like a conspiracy!”

“Um,” said Ben, “yeah.”

“And we have to do that upstairs because your mum might walk in on us looking through her confidential emails and freak out accordingly.”

“Um,” Ben said, again, “um, well, yeah, I guess. But the stairs… And Whisper…” He turned to glower at the obstacle the stairs presented them.  “I mean, we could…” Ben looked at Whisper earnestly, thinking of the picture he’d found on the other boy’s bookshelf.

Julian. Carrying Whisper. Why, Ben hadn’t the slightest idea.

But they’d both looked so happy…

Ben wanted Whisper to be that happy with him.

Shifting from foot to foot, Ben smiled at Whisper shyly. “I could carry you?  Only if you wanted me to, obviously.”

Leanne nodded in agreement. “Good idea- and then I could carry the chair up. You’re okay with that, right, Whisper?”

Whisper glanced at Ben, a slow grin gliding onto his face. “Definitely okay with that.” He winked, like some kind of cheesy performer on a stage. Whisper hadn’t winked in a while, and Ben had found himself missing the action.

Whisper’s eyelid fluttered downwards like a promise, like a prayer- and when it opened, it was as if the whole damn universe had hidden itself in his lashes.

Leaning forwards, Ben shivered slightly as he braced his arms beneath Whisper’s legs. They were so close together that he could taste the other boy’s breath; smell the slight lingering scent of his after shave. There was something else, too- another smell, one that Ben didn’t recognise. Smoke, perhaps, except Ben knew that Whisper hadn’t touched a cigarette in his life.

It was the kind of smell that made Ben quite inconveniently horny.

“Ben,” murmured Whisper as Ben lifted him up from the chair. They were so close. The closest they’d ever been to one another. Ben’s brain spasmed over the thought, as if it couldn’t quite believe it.

They were so close. So close. Soclosesoclosesoclosesocloseso-

Whisper raised his eyebrows in concern. “Are you okay? You know you don’t have to try and lift me if I’m too heavy for you, right? You’re pulling such a weird expression – it kind of looks like you’re constipated - and-”

Ben shook his head minutely, trying to fix his expression into something a little less inanely raptured. “You’re not too heavy, don’t worry.  It’s just…”

“Huh? Just what? Seriously, if I’m too heavy then just say.”

“You’re fine, I promise.” Ben’s voice was almost imperceptible as he muttered into Whisper’s ear, speaking through a deep red blush. “You just smell really good, and it’s turning me on.”

Whisper laughed as they neared the top of the stairs. “Not going to lie- that’s very, very cute.”

“I mean it. You smell so awesome, you’re practically a liability.”

I mean it. You’re… Okay, so cute isn’t the right word… Sweet, then. Your blush makes everything you say so much sweeter. And you’re strong enough to carry me up this whole flight of stairs.” Whisper laughed, teasingly. “Whoever doesn’t think you’re an ideal guy is lying to themselves.”

From behind them, Leanne let out a low whistle. “Get a room already. And hurry up- this chair is so much heavier than it looks, and I hate slow walkers.”

Ben jumped out the way to let her pass, his blush threatening to spread over his entire body. Whisper stared after her, looking absurdly like he’d just swallowed a brick. “Did she hear all of that?” he asked Ben, grinning slightly sheepishly. “Sheesh. That’s kind of embarrassing.”

Rolling his eyes, Ben tried to act casually as he carried Whisper into his bedroom, seating him down in his chair. He hadn’t thought to worry about it before, but… Ben hung his head self-consciously. God. This was the first time Whisper had been in his room.

Ben eyed the slightly ripped posters on his wall critically, wondering what Whisper would think of them. One was a huge, blown-up cover of his favourite Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet. Next to that, he’d tacked a badly painted watercolour map of Middle Earth that Seb had painted for him ages ago. It was partially covered by ’Jack the Ripper in Ten Gruesome Facts’, which was a vaguely grubby tear-out from some magazine he’d once read.

 Ugh. Whisper didn’t have a single poster in his room- just a few well framed photographs. Did posters seem childish to him? Ben bit his lip nervously as Leanne plumped herself down on the carpet, dragging Ben’s family laptop in front of her.

She turned it on, clicking her teeth as she waited for it to load.

“Sherlock Holmes?” murmured Whisper, with a wry flick of his lip as Ben carried him into his chair. “You actually read the books? To be honest, that’s kind of impressive.”

“Have you read them?” WhisperthinksI’mimpressiveWhisperthinksI’mimpressive.

Whisper shrugged. “Nah. I’ve seen the movies though. Well. The new ones, anyway. With Robert Downey Jr. “

“I’ve not seen the new movies, actually.”

“You’d like them. Robert Downey Jr has a nice ass.”

Leanne coughed so suddenly and violently, Ben began to wonder whether it was put on. “Ben,” she said, after a few minutes of practically choking, gesturing at the laptop screen. “This is your mum’s email already logged on, right?”

“Oh.” Ben peered to look briefly at the tab Leanne was opening. “Yeah, that’s it.” He supposed no one had ever had the chance to log his mother out since the last time he’d used the laptop. 

“Right,” said Leanne absentmindedly, scrolling through Ben’s mother’s emails without reserve. “Woah. Dan Llewogen’s sent way more emails than you made out. This is stretching back almost four months.” She read a selection out for Ben and Whisper, twirling her hair round her finger idly.

Ben tried not to listen, and then realised how stupid he was being. He had to listen. He had to, if he wanted to get to the bottom of all this shit. Or whatever. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Whisper with close scrutiny, trying to gauge the other boy’s reactions. Had Dan x sent him all these? Or was that one that Ben had seen on his phone just some kind of one-off?

And if it was a one-off… Goddamn why hadn’t Whisper ever said anything about it?

Hi Sarah,” Leanne was reading. “This is the newest message, by the way. Sent yesterday evening.” She was quiet for a second as she skimmed the message, and then- “Oh my god, guys, this Dan person is a total dickhead- just listen to this: Hi Sarah, you look hot when you’re leaving your family for me. Too much?  Dan x.

Ben stiffened. And Whisper- Whisper whistled softly in apparent shock, as if he’d never heard that message before in all his life. Except Ben knew that he had.

 Of course he had. Ben had read it sent to Whisper’s phone just the other day, in fact.

Whisper caught Ben staring at him, and winced sympathetically. “Wow. I mean, this guy is unbelievably sleazy- that’s for sure.”

With a tight smile, Ben turned away to face Leanne. “What do you think?”

“What do I think? I think, of course your mum’s denying knowing who this guy is: he sounds like a creep. Maybe when she found out you knew she was seeing him, she realised how weird he was and decided to pretend she didn’t know him. Which is all for the best, if you ask me.”

“Mmm,” said Ben. He jumped down from where he’d been sitting on the bed, sliding across the carpet to sit next to Leanne, in front of the laptop. This way, he couldn’t see Whisper.

This way, he didn’t have to look Whisper in the eye and know that he was being lied to.

In his chest, Ben felt the kind of crippling, compressing pain that Atlas must have felt when he was asked to hold up the whole world.

“Hey,” said Whisper, leaning forwards and tapping Leanne on the shoulder. “Can I read the emails again?”

She shrugged and handed him the laptop. “Sure.”

Ben looked away and imagined Whisper exclaiming, suddenly, that actually, as a matter of fact, he recognised this email after all. He imagined Whisper digging his phone out his pocket and the knife out Ben’s heart, and showing the weird text he’d received addressed to Sarah. He imagined, of course, but-

But he knew it would never actually happen.

“Ben.” Whisper, speaking now, his voice quick like a blade against flesh. “Ben, what’s your surname, again?”

It was a strange question, and Ben’s face contorted in confusion like it was in training to join the circus. “Akamatsu.” It was his dad’s name, meaning powerful and complete. Which was ironic, really, when you looked at the state of Ben’s father. A momentary pause, and then: “Why?”

“It’s just-” Whisper tapped the laptop screen, pulling his hand back sharply as Leanne winced. “Here. Your mum’s email address.”

Ben craned his neck to look, and saw what Whisper was getting at. Instead of the username Ben knew was his mother’s – the typical, totally generic sarahakamatsu@gmail.com – the address they were looking through emails from was-

“This says Sarah Atamatsu,” said Ben, slowly. “With a ‘t’. That’s not even a real surname, I don’t think.”

“Oh,” Leanne sighed. “I didn’t think to look at the address.” She turned to Whisper, smirking. “You’re actually a genius, you know that?” She nudged Ben with her elbow, harder than she’d probably intended. “You’re practically dating Einstein.”

Whisper shifted in his seat uncomfortably, biting down on his lip like a mad man might have chewed upon thought. “It wasn’t-”

Leanne laughed delightedly, sticking out her tongue at him. “It was brilliant, you idiot. Stop trying to deny it.” It was funny, the fact that she was already on insult terms with Whisper, despite making his acquaintance only around five minutes ago. Leanne was like that, though. Ben supposed that she could probably make friends with anyone- from a forty year old drugs lord, to the kind of stray cat that always tried to scratch Ben’s eyes out.

It wasn’t that Leanne was particularly amiable herself. She just kind of… Forced people into friendship with her, and before you knew it you’d be having sleepover parties together and braiding each other’s hair. She had the kind of no-nonsense attitude that even Satan would have found it hard to disagree with.

Ben snickered slightly at the mental image of Leanne braiding the hair of a balding red guy with a pointy tail and horns.

She raised an eyebrow at Ben, gesturing at the laptop screen. This apparently was not the time for completely unrelated laughter. “So, what does this mean?”

“You tell me.”

He was still getting round to figuring out what the change in his mother’s email address meant in his head, let alone voicing it all out loud. If the emails had all been sent to this false email address, Ben’s mother – naturally, checking her actual email address – would never have had to see them. Or reply to them, for that matter. That could have been done somewhere else, on someone else’s run-down laptop.

Guilt twisted itself around Ben’s heart in a hangman’s noose.

He’d screamed at his mother. He’d called her names, and spat, and cried. And she’d told him. She’d told him she knew nothing about Dan x, but Ben hadn’t believed her. How could he have- when he thought the emails were being sent to her address, thought it was his mother who had replied to each one.

If this wasn’t his mother’s email address, though, there was only one problem.

Sitting on the bed behind him, Whisper coughed. “Um,” he said, and Ben wondered absentmindedly why his voice sounded so frantic. “I should probably go now.”

“Leave?” said Leanne in what sounded like genuine shock. She’d probably have been perfectly happy to crash at Ben’s house for the next seven weeks. “What, already?”

Whisper nodded. “I – uh – have some stuff to do.” He waved his hand vaguely. “It’s my dad’s birthday tomorrow, and I still need to buy him a present- and-”

Leanne nodded. “Yeah, I get it. Tell him happy birthday from me, okay?”

“Me too,” said Ben, because he felt as if he had to.

“Yeah, I will.” Whisper smiled, but it seemed like the expression was splashed with nerves. “Can you, er-”

Ben started up to help him, picking Whisper up more easily, now. Their bodies curved into each other in a comfortable tangle of limbs and quickened breathing; if you didn’t look too closely, they might have been joined as one.

As they headed down the stairs, Whisper shifted suddenly in Ben’s arms, pulling at something around his neck. “This is the key I got you. The one that plays the rubbish Justin Bieber I thought you liked.” Whisper's fingers were cool, gentle. Like the breath of the wind or a solitary secret.

“I made it into a necklace. I thought it would be nice to be reminded of you all the time.”  Ben smiled, just a little, and his smile was the colours of the rainbow reflecting through the rain. “So far, at least, the reminder’s never been annoying.”

“Thanks for the compliment.” Whisper laughed, though the strange anxiety from before still riddled its way through his tone. "I- I'm glad you like it, Ben."

"Of course I do. It's from you, isn't it?"

Their hands brushed as Ben settled Whisper back down in his chair- and beneath the liquid electricity that threatened to swallow Ben whole, there was something else, too.

Ben could have sworn he’d felt Whisper’s hands shaking, like they’d been carrying all the hurt of the universe in their palms.

Leanne opened the door for him, beaming as was her custom. “It was so good to meet you, Whisper. Buy something amazing for your dad!”

Whisper grinned, a little wryly. “If my wallet doesn’t break.” He waved as he began to roll down the driveway. Again, strangely, his hand seemed to quaver, despite the unusual heat of the day.

“Bye,” said Ben, pushing aside the nagging thought that something was off. And, softly, “Love you.”

Maybe Whisper didn’t hear his words, but it didn’t make the answering silence any less heavy against Ben’s back.

It was only when Whisper was halfway down the street and Ben was heading back up the stairs when he realised. Eyes widening, he hurried to his porch and pulled on his shoes, ignoring Leanne’s questioning hand on his arm. Throwing open the door, he looked down the road to where Whisper was about to turn the corner.

And Ben ran.

And Ben screamed.

“Whisper!” was all he said out loud – “Whisper!” and “Whisper!” and “Whisper”, over and over again – but his head was a blur of shouts and cries and whirlwind comprehension that muscled its way through like a hurricane.

His mum hadn’t ever received the Dan x emails because they’d been sent to a false address. A false address- someone could have sent the emails from anywhere. And all that made perfect, logical sense, except for one thing. The false address had been logged on to Ben’s family laptop.

Ben’s feet lashed against the tarmac like bitten back curses, keeping time to the dull thud thud thudding of his heart. Around his neck, Whisper's key swung wildly, out of control. 

Out of control like the warring shadows of doubt and understanding that threatened to swallow Ben whole. 

His ankle twisted sharply, a broken fire straightening out his spine and numbing his leg. He gritted his teeth and continued, the speakers in his head blaring a creeping, static that caught in his breath.

Ben hadn’t logged on to that account. Neither had his mother- Ben had decided, once and for all, that her denial of knowing of any Daniel Llewogen must have been genuine. His father, too, would never have hauled himself out of bed long enough to touch the laptop.

Whisper, though.

Realisation barrelled into Ben’s back like a seven-ton basket of bricks.

And his heart and his feet went thud thud thud.

All the times Whisper had been to Ben’s house. The laptop would’ve been just lying around, for anyone to pick up. If Whisper had found it and logged into the account…

Thud thud thud.

Whisper was close enough to Ben to know his mother’s name, to know the kind of deadbeat husband she was married to. And Ben knew for sure that he had at least one message from Dan x on his phone. What if all the messages had been sent to him first, like the one that Ben had seen?

Say, his mother hadn’t used the laptop since Whisper logged the false account onto it. Say it was left like that, purposely, for Ben to find.

Thud thud thud.

Say that Whisper wasn’t all that Ben had thought he was.

Over his shoulder, Ben could glimpse Leanne hurrying towards him out of the house, one of her shoes only half put on. She was yelling something, maybe his name, but Ben couldn’t hear anything but the coarse, broken screeches that ripped from the pit of his chest.

“Whisper!” he screamed, and the voice was barely recognisable as his own.

“Whisper!” and there were tears licking down Ben’s cheeks like flame.

“Whisper!” and then his lungs near exploded and he couldn’t scream anymore, chasing after the boy in the wheelchair. Still too far ahead, Whisper turned the corner. Ben’s footsteps clattered to an empty halt.

And his heart felt ready to end with them.

“Ben,” wheezed Leanne, catching up to him, laying a hand on his arm. “Ben, God, what is it? What is it?” She stared at his tears like they were some exotic rarity, enveloping him in a tight hug that he didn’t have the strength to refuse. “What’s wrong, goddamn it?”

“Whisper.”

Yeah, that’s right, Ben, state the obvious. You’ve only been yelling his name down the whole street.

“Wh- What, though?” Leanne pulled back to look into Ben’s face, confused. Only a few minutes ago, after all, the three of them had sat together in Ben’s bedroom like they couldn’t imagine anywhere else.

“I-” Ben’s voice cracked, hurting. Hewashurtinghewashurtinghewashurtingsomuch. “Whisper-”

He cut off, shoving his hands into his pockets.

His fingers closed around paper, which surprised him. Tears still flecked across his cheeks like a beautiful sort of acne, Ben pulled out a stack of photographs, slightly crumpled. They were Whisper’s, he realised. He must have put them in his pocket back at Whisper’s house and then forgotten all about them.

The top photo was familiar. It showed Whisper being lifted by Julian, and Ben couldn’t help but feel jealousy’s kiss snake its way inside him.

“Who’s that?” asked Leanne beside him, pointing at Julian. Ben ignored her.

If he spoke, now, he thought his voice might shatter.

The next picture was of Julian and Whisper again, this time each holding ice creams. And the two of them again, in one of those over-priced Polaroids that you can buy from fairground rides. Ben leafed through the photos quickly, not lingering on any for too long.

He didn’t even know why he was looking through the photos.

He supposed because he could- because they were there, when what he really needed was the real-life, flesh-and-blood Whisper to cry to and kiss and rant and interrogate.

The last photo was one he hadn’t had time to look at in Whisper’s room. It was different to the others, not because Whisper wasn’t smiling, or Julian wasn’t holding him in some kind of sickeningly sweet embrace. This was a group picture- and Ben didn’t recognise all the people in it.

He recognised some, though. He recognised enough.

Whisper and Julian, of course, near the back. July pouting over to one side, her hand entwined in Darren’s. And there, right in the middle, his arm around some girl Ben didn’t know and didn’t care about?

It was Seb. 

 

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