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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3. CHAPTER ONE| No One

 

Here’s a fun fact that Ben learned quickly: his support group could be really, really dull. Especially after he’d been attending weekly sessions for going on six months.

There were only so many help sheets and coping activities that the hospital could provide, and when those ran out, the hospital’s go to thing was to give out the same old help sheets all over again. By his tenth session, Ben had already had three leaflets on ‘Keeping a Grief Journal’ and was unexcitedly anticipating a fourth.

The tenth session was about the time that his parents stopped going. He didn’t blame them, really – they had other stuff to do, lives to move on with, that kind of thing. And it wasn’t like they quit going to see Seb in the hospital, either. They just didn’t visit as much as Ben did, or as much as they used to. That was all.

“Okay, everyone!” said the group leader, clapping her hands together. Her name was Judy, and her life motto seemed to be ‘Always Be Super Mega Perky At All Times and Annoy Everyone Else in the Process.’ Or at least, annoy Ben.

This was Support Group, after all. Constant cheerfulness wasn’t supposed to be in the description.

“Today, we have some great new material to work with!” proclaimed Judy with a shiny mega-watt smile meant for blinding whole nations. Ben reckoned she must be honing it to become a Weapon of Mass Destruction. “I’m positive you’re all going to agree that it’s very, very helpful and-“

Judy was unfortunately cut short by the blare of someone’s phone playing an over-aired Justin Bieber song.

Cursing under his breath, Ben reached for the pocket of the jacket slung over the back of his chair, fumbling for his mobile. Under the disapproving gaze of Judy (and most likely everyone else in the support group) Ben fiddled with the screen until he could decline the call.

He knew it was Leanne without even looking at the caller ID. It was always Leanne these days.

She’d left three texts as well. ‘Hey, are you alright?’, ‘Has your support group thing finished yet?’ and ‘do you want to meet up after? :)’. Ben sighed under his breath and ignored them all, pushing his phone back into his jacket pocket.

Judy coughed, her lips puckering into a small, lipstick-stained frown. “Benedict, if you feel that your phone is helpful to you then you are welcome to keep it turned on, but I think we'd all benefit more thoroughly from the session if our attention wasn't being compromised by external distractions.”

“Yeah, I know. Sorry.”

Judy held her grimace a little longer, before replacing it with her more regular up-turned smile. “That’s perfectly okay- don’t worry about it! Just don’t let it happen again, all right?” She clapped her hands sharply, her long false nails flashing red. “Okay then, everybody! I want you to pull your chairs into a circle in the middle of the room, and then my volunteers are going to come round and hand out sheets!”

Ben closed his eyes, puffing out his cheeks. If it came down to it, the thing that annoyed him most about Judy had to be the way that she spoke as if there was a constant, non-moving exclamation mark at the end of all her sentences.

“Okay, everybody, let’s get moving! Stop talking, girls- this is serious!”

Or maybe the way she started every second sentence with ‘Okay, everyone!’

Dragging his stiff-backed green chair to join the oddly shaped circle, Ben sat back down with a fiercely hostile air of indifference. If looks could kill, his would have been a multi weapon-wielding assassin on every country’s Most Wanted List. Probably every planetMost Wanted List, at a stretch.

A boy in a wheelchair handed Ben a sheet of paper. Ben barely even saw him. These days, he was zoning out more and more than he’d ever used to before Seb went into his coma. These days-

He shook his head, banishing these thoughts from his mind and trying to concentrate on whatever long, rambling, altogether boring speech that Judy was sure to start off on next.

“Right- so all of you will have read your sheets by now, I’m sure! You’re all such fast readers! Now then, I want you each to close your eyes, and listen carefully.” Judy paused, probably for effect. She was the exact exaggerated sort of person that was bound to fancy herself on the stage. “In a moment, I’m going to ask you all to remember the last time you had a conversation with your loved one, before they had their accidents. And-“

Judy said more, but it was all just white noise to Ben. Right then, a bomb going off in the next room would have been nothing more to him than a gnat buzzing at his ear.

The last time he’d spoken to Seb… they’d argued. Really argued. Ben leant forwards in his seat, suddenly feeling sick. If… If Seb never woke up, that argument would be the last conversation they’d ever had together.

He stood up abruptly, rising to his feet in a rush. The world spun in front of him, his eyes bulging as he struggled to take it all in.

Ben was facing a world without Seb… And the last words he’d said to him were angry, ugly, shouted.

“Grow up!”

“You don’t care about anything anymore!”

“You idiot!”

Ben had run through the same possibility in his head again and again, over and over: Seb would have been fuming, going over Ben’s words instead of concentrating on the road- and then, that would be the moment when Seb crashed the car.

Seb’s coma was Ben’s fault. He was convinced of it.

Ben swayed and staggered, almost falling on his face. He was vaguely aware of Judy’s voice filling up the room, ringing with concern, but all he could think of now was the taste of his own vomit in his mouth.

“Air,” he croaked in a voice rubbed raw as if by sandpaper. “I need…I need some air.”

No one tried to stop him as he lurched from the room, clutching his stomach as his tissue-paper insides slowly unravelled. He shuddered and gasped, the world spinning and piecing together before him like shards of shattered glass that no longer quite fit.

Ben climbed flight of stairs after flight of stairs until he finally got to where he wanted to be. The roof of the support centre was flat, with a small barrier at about knee height running around the edge. It was usually only maintenance crews that came up here, and even they weren’t on the roof to greet him.

He inhaled the cool air in through his mouth, shivering slightly as it licked against his skin. Walking over near the edge, Ben sat down.

He could look down and see matchstick people living their matchstick lives below him. And he could think.

He could do that, too.

Sometimes his mum would ask him why he hadn’t stopped frequenting Support Group when she did, but even Ben didn’t have an answer to that question.  He supposed it was because it gave him time out of school, but even that seemed evasive. Ben had grown to loathe school, these past months– the awkward looks the teachers gave him, the way none of his old friends seemed to know what to say anymore. No one wanted to say anything to him anymore; they’d counted Ben and Seb as one and the same person, and now half of that person was gone- and, frankly, it was the cooler, more interesting half.

Ben stared into the distance, trying to fight back tears. It looked a little like an art shot for the cover of an indie CD, if indie CD covers included too-thin mixed-race teenage boys who blamed themselves for their brother’s coma.

“Don’t do it!”

Ben spun around in shock, searching for the owner of the voice. Propelling himself forwards with a distinct sense of urgency was a boy in a wheelchair, his curly brown hair flopping about in the wind.

“Don’t do it!” shouted the boy again, his eyes wide. “Please!”

Ben stood up bemusedly, brushing his jeans down. “Don’t do what?”

“Don’t throw your life away! I… I know it must be hard for you with a loved one in- in a coma- But I can tell you for sure, if they love you like you love them, they wouldn’t want you to- to jump… I mean, I know how difficult things are now for you, but things will get better– and, and I –“

Ben looked at the boy in bewilderment. “Wait, seriously, hang on a second. Are you- are you saying that you think I’m going to jump off this building?”

“Oh… You’re… You’re not?”

“Of course not! What the hell made you think that-“

The boy put a hand to his mouth, biting his lip. “Crap, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to… I just thought…”

What?”

“I don’t… It was just, every time I’ve seen you at these sessions you’ve looked so… Like, everyone looks sad, but you look the kind of sad that seems like you don’t think you’re ever going to recover. And today, when you just stood up like that, and I saw you were headed for the roof, I… I guess I just jumped to conclusions. I’m sorry, Ben. I feel really terrible, honestly- I didn’t mean-“

Ben frowned, peering closer at this boy. The wheelchair, birds-nest hair and wide, shining eyes were clearly distinctive, but Ben couldn’t remember ever seeing him before in his life. “Hang on, how come you know my name?”

“I’ve, uh, been volunteering at Support Group for two months or something now. Remember– I think I handed you your sheet before you left the session to come up here?” He shook his head. “It’s fine if you don’t remember. I know everyone’s names.”

“I don’t,” Ben said.

The boy smiled. “I’m Whisper. So now you know mine.” He paused, trailing off. “And, uh, I really am so sorry about following you up here and yelling at you like that, like, I–“

“It’s fine,” said Ben, because he was sick of Whisper apologising to him and also wanted to ask him about his parents because who on earth calls their child ‘Whisper’? “You don’t need to keep apologising.”

“Alright. But like I said, I’m–“

“You’re sorry. I know,” said Ben, laughing slightly to take the edge off it. The sound was harsh and Ben was unaccustomed to it– he hadn’t laughed in a while.

“So… I guess you just came up here because you needed some space, huh?”

“Yeah. Something like that.” Ben smiled, then tilted his head to one side when a thought struck him. “Wait, how did you even get up here? You can’t climb stairs, can you?” he asked, then covered his hand with his mouth nervously. He’d never really spoken to anyone in a wheelchair before, but now that Ben thought about it he realised that Whisper was probably sick of questions regarding his mobility. “Oh god, that wasn’t rude, was it? I just spoke without thinking, and-”

Whisper winked, shaking his head. “You know the lift goes all the way to the roof, right?” Before Ben could answer, Whisper was already grinning and rolling his eyes. “You didn’t know about the lift, did you? Jesus Christ, you’re crazy- aren’t there, like, three hundred stairs or something to walk up?”

“Something like that.”

 “You idiot.”

“Fair enough.” Ben laughed again, the sound fuller this time. He was getting better at this– this whole talking to other people stuff. “So, um, what kind of name is Whisper?” Damn it, that came out wrong. “Wait, um- again, I don’t mean to be rude or anything–“

Whisper wiggled his eyebrows, obviously not taking offence. “You should hear my middle names.”

“Do I want to?”

“Probably not, but I can tell you them anyway. You can rank your top ten.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Deadly serious.”

“No one’s got more than ten middle names.”

 “Okay, so, some of them are repeats. Or just the same name, but with different spellings. And one of them is Repishw, which is just ‘Whisper’, but backwards. The ‘W’ is silent, though.” Whisper smirked. “But all in all, the total count is definitely over ten.”

“I can’t decide whether your parents are edgy or just plain weird,” Ben told him, just as his phone picked that precise moment to blare out the first few notes of Justin Bieber’s latest pop song. He groaned internally – why did Leanne insist on calling him every half an hour? – and plucked his phone from his pocket. “Do you mind if I take this?”

Whisper shrugged, waving his hand lazily. “Go ahead.”

“Leanne?” asked Ben, trying his very hardest not to sound utterly annoyed.

“Ben! I’ve been trying to get hold of you for ages, oh my God. Pick up your phone, next time!”

“I was at Support Group.”

“Oh… Oh yeah, I forgot. Was it okay? Are you okay? Do you want to talk about it? Because, you know, I’m always here, whenever you need me,” gushed Leanne down the phone.

Ben rolled his eyes. Leanne had made that same speech at least fifty times in the past month, and that wasn’t even an exaggeration. Before Seb’s coma, she’d been the kind of person who wouldn’t even have noticed if Ben had come to school wearing a lime green morph suit. Since the accident, though, she’d been going out of her way to be a good friend to Ben, but was only succeeding in being massively irritating.

“Er… I’m actually kind of still at Support Group.”

“Ah… Sorry if this is bad timing or whatever, then. But, anyway, I was wondering if you want to meet up later? Two o’clock at the smoothie bar or something?”

“Oh, okay then. Can you give me twenty minutes?”

Ben hadn’t had a smoothie in ages. They’d used to go every week– him, and Leanne, and Seb. That stopped when Seb made his new friends, though. Funny, thought Ben, Darren hasn’t been to visit Seb once. Some ‘friend’.

“Absolutely!” chirped Leanne. “See you there!”

“Bye.” Ben hung up.

Whisper looked at him quizzically. “Twenty minutes? What are you planning on doing for twenty minutes?”

Ben smiled, letting a little bit of hope slide from his heart onto his face. “I… I was hoping we could talk?”

Whisper gave a little smile. If it had a sales pitch it would be something like ‘GUARANTEED TO MAKE YOUR INSIDES MELT’, because that’s exactly what it did to Ben.

“Sure,” said Whisper, “I’d like that.”

 

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WHISPER

A ROMANCE BY MIRLOTTA


//cover by @violets\\

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