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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8. CHAPTER SIX| Kiss

 

When Whisper had invited Ben to volunteer at a food bank with him, that was what Ben had expected. Volunteering at a food bank with Whisper. Just Whisper. Not Whisper, all his extended family, seven cats, and a small year two class.

Okay, so it wasn’t quite that bad, but Whisper’s dad definitely made enough noise during the car journey for someone to mistake him for at least a couple of cats. His wife seemed pretty calm by comparison, but the fact that she’d appeared on his doorstep with a pen-knife skewering her hair in place made Ben feel even more uneasy.

They’d rung his doorbell at nine in the morning wearing the stupidly massive grins that only very sincere Morning People can master so early in the day. Ben’s mother was not a Morning Person, and she’d flung open the door with such force it wouldn’t have been a shock if it had flown off its hinges and so far into space it began a never ending orbit of the world.

It didn’t, thank God.

She took one look at Whisper’s dad with his droopy walrus moustache, and Whisper’s mum with her ominous looking pen-knife/hair ornament, and frowned. “No cold callers.”

Whisper’s dad took that as a perfectly polite way to say ‘hello’. “I’m Merridew, Whisper’s dad.” He smiled some more, nudging his wife. “This is my wife, Olivia.”

“Hi,” said Olivia, giving a little wave. The pen-knife in her hair wobbled precariously. “Whisper’s just in the car. His legs- but I’m sure you know how it is.”

Ben’s mother’s was known to a select few as Sarah, but she wasn’t about to tell these weird looking strangers that. Her frown deepened. “I’m sorry… Is there something I can help you with?”

 “We’re Whisper’s parents,” Merridew said again, emphasising every syllable. “He’s waiting in the car for Ben.”

“Ben?” asked Sarah, probably wondering how in hell her son had been mixing with these people.

Merridew gave an exaggerated nod. “Your son.” He bit his lip suddenly, staring at his wife in apparent horror. “Wait, are you sure we’ve come to the right house?” he stage-whispered. Olivia shrugged unhelpfully.

Sarah put her hands on her hips. Though she didn’t say anything, if she had it would probably have been a spew of early morning irritation with early morning people.

From where he was watching at the top of the stairs, Ben decided it was probably best to make himself known and diffuse the situation. The thing was, he hadn’t exactly managed to tell his mother he had a friend named Whisper at all yet.  Since things had got to the point where said Whisper was now at his door with his parents about to take him to a food bank, Ben’s mother probably needed confirmation that the two adults in front of her weren’t actually a pair of moustachioed pen-knife wielding kidnappers.

He ran down the stairs and appeared next to his mother, trying to look semi-guilty that he’d been neglecting to tell her he’d actually found a friend who wasn’t Leanne.

Merridew beamed a characteristic beam. “Ben! There you are!”

Ben’s mother raised an eyebrow. “Ben?”

“Um, these are my friend Whisper’s parents. They invited me to volunteer at a foodbank with them.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? What if we were doing something today?”

Ben shifted awkwardly. “We’re never doing something.”

Sarah swallowed. “Right,” she said, and then in defeat she let Merridew tell her what time Ben would be back for and where the food bank was in the kind of dejected slump that Ben often found himself falling into, these days. It was probably hereditary.

And then Ben said goodbye to his mother (actually it was more of a casual ‘bye, then’, but for atmospheric reasons let’s pretend he said a full ‘goodbye’) and let himself be ushered into the back seat of a dusty looking blue Honda.

It happened so abruptly, Ben would have been looking rather disgruntled were it not for the fact that he was sitting next to Whisper and, for some inexplicable reason, when Ben was with Whisper he wanted to look his best.

But it wasn’t, you know, like that was because Ben had a crush or anything.

He simply wanted Whisper to appreciate how he looked when his dark waterfall of hair had been combed properly and he was wearing his favourite jeans. That was all.

“Hi,” said Whisper, his brown curls falling into his eyes. He pushed his hair aside roughly, and Ben caught the gesture with both hands and tucked it away in a file full of Little Things Whisper Did That Ben Wanted to Rewatch and Treasure Forever.

“Hi,” said Ben in return, almost shyly.

They didn’t say anything else for the rest of the journey, because really, ‘hi’ said it all.

-

The food bank was exactly the kind of place Ben usually avoided. Firstly and most importantly, because it involved helping other people. Ben was by no means a horrible guy – for example, if a little old lady fell over in the street then Ben would jump to helping the little old lady – but he just didn’t normally volunteer to spend his day doing nothing but help other people. If little old ladies followed Ben everywhere just so they could fall over when he was watching, after helping about seven up he’d probably start getting a little shirty.

At the food bank, there were a lot more than seven people, and Ben was there to help them all.

Whilst Olivia and Merridew had got the job of welcoming people at front of house, Ben figured he’d been landed with something deceptively better. He stood at the canteen next to Whisper in his wheelchair, both of them wearing plastic blue aprons and hair nets. Every time someone came up to them with a tray, Ben would dollop a lump of generally unidentifiable food onto their plate. Then they’d go, and Ben and Whisper would talk. The talking was the good part.

“Whisper?”

“Uh-huh?” said Whisper, as he ladled some toxic looking brown stuff onto someone’s plate.

“Do you come here a lot?”

“I guess so. Why?”

“I…” Ben scratched at his neck, where the label of the apron was itching him. “I think it’s nice, you know, that you come here to help people. And you volunteer at support group. And… Goddamn it, do you think we can rip the labels on our aprons off?”

Whisper shrugged. “I guess so. Probably.”

“Probably what?” said a voice behind them. Ben turned, spilling some soup on himself.  

It was a very awkward moment to spill some soup.

The boy standing behind them looked just as cool as exceptionally cool people can when wearing a hair net and an apron. He had neat looking brown hair, a sneer that Ben reckoned could rival Draco Malfoy’s, and was also apparently one of the 5% of people in the world with green eyes.

“Whisper,” said the boy. “Long time no see.”

 “Julian!” said Whisper, his eyes widening. “Wow, uh… How long has it been now? A few weeks?”

“Two months. Give or take.” Julian paused. “But last time I saw you here, weren’t you on your own? Who’s this?” he asked, fixing Ben with a look that had ‘I Hate Your Guts and You Remind Me of That Fly I Stepped on the Other Day’ written all over it.

“I’m Ben,” said Ben, forcing a smile. If Whisper knew him, the guy couldn’t be so bad, anyway.

“Hmm,” said Julian, poker faced. “I once had a senile great uncle named Ben. He shat himself to death.”

Whisper pulled a face. “He’s joking,” he told Ben hurriedly, twisting away from both of them to serve the ever growing queue of people.

“Hey,” Julian whined, once Whisper had finished serving. “Don’t just turn away from me! Don’t I get a ‘hello’ kiss?” He leaned forward, puckering his lips and closing his eyes.

Whisper pushed him away, way too playfully for Ben to feel comfortable. Puffing out his breath dramatically, Whisper looked contritely at Ben over Julian’s shoulder. “Sorry. This is Julian. My ex.”  Whisper emphasised the word carefully, looking at Ben worriedly. “His parents force him to come here and help out every once in a while, but I didn’t expect he’d be here today.”

“Problem?” asked Julian, smirking slightly. He winked, before leaning over to drape a protective arm around Whisper’s shoulders.

Whisper didn’t shrug him off.

Ben knew in that instant that if this guy was ever looking for a job, he’d be a brilliant arch villain. This deep inner calling was carved across Julian’s skin with a painful precision that rhymed with sneering and evil and Roger-from-Lord-of-the-Flies. If this guy ever wished upon a star at night, Ben pondered, the star would more than likely turn out to be a severed head- and its trail would be a trail of blood and lies.

Ben wasn’t quite sure how he knew all this, but it was probably something to do with the way the guy was raising only one eyebrow. Ben never trusted people who could raise one eyebrow.

“No,” said Ben. “No, no problem at all.” He smoothed down his apron, chewing on the inside of his cheek. “Look, I think I’m just going to go take a break.”

“Have fun!” trilled Julian mock-enthusiastically. Whisper bit his lip, turning back to the people he was serving.

Walking away, Ben’s insides felt empty, like a tin can. He didn’t want to walk away from Whisper; he wanted to stay with him for as long as he could. But Julian? If Julian went all the way to Hell, he still wouldn’t be far enough away for Ben.

Looking back as he made to turn the corner, Ben watched Whisper laugh almost involuntarily at something Julian had said. He watched Julian bend his head so his cheeks grazed Whisper’s, watched Julian run a hand through Whisper’s hair with such practiced ease that Ben knew that they’d done this before.

Ben knew he shouldn’t be watching. He knew that he was hurting himself by watching this, putting himself through this. And yet, as Julian’s lips brushed Whisper’s – so swiftly, so briefly, that no one could care less – Ben found himself rooted to the spot, unable to breathe.

Watching Whisper smile slightly, afterwards, was enough to turn Ben’s bones to glass. One more moment of this, and he was going to shatter.

He turned, and walked down the hallway.

As soon as he was out of sight, Ben leant against the cold white wall, pushing his head into his hands. Flinging off his apron, he let his body slide until he sat, hunched, on the floor. I feel like crying, thought Ben, in something near bewilderment. Why do I feel like crying? I never cry. I never cry.

So. Whisper absolutely definitely liked boys. Liked boys. Had been with boys before, kissed them and loved them like Seb used to declare to Ben that he loved whichever girl he’d decided to fall hopelessly enamoured with that particular week.

And that shouldn’t have meant anything to Ben. It shouldn’t have made a beautiful, golden flame comprised of hope and Whisper and love and Whisper ignite inside his hollow chest. The thought of Julian and Whisper shouldn’t have clamped iron manacles around his heart and chained it to a suitcase packed full of despair.

It shouldn’t. It shouldn’t.

It did, it did, oh, it did.

From the pocket of Ben’s favourite jeans, his phone began to ring.

He answered it quickly, without bothering to look at the caller ID. When it was Leanne that spoke, he couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. It wasn’t that he expected anyone else in particular, but… Right now, the only person Ben wanted to talk to Whisper.

Not just right now. Forever. Ben only wanted to talk to Whisper forever and ever and ever.

“Ben?” said Leanne, not bothering to say ‘hello’. She was as rude and direct and to-the-point as usual, but that was why they were friends. Had been friends, until the last time they’d seen each other, when they’d argued.

“Leanne. Hi.”

She paused, stopping whatever she was planning to say short. “Are you… You know, okay? You sound like you’re about to cry.”

“What? No… I… I’ve just got a cold. That’s all.”

“Yeah, you sound awful.” She laughed a little, like she knew stating the obvious wasn’t going to get them anywhere, but she just couldn’t bear to state anything else.

“Thanks.”

Leanne sighed, paused, then sighed again. “Hey, I…”

“I’m sorry,” said Ben, suddenly.

“What?”

“I’m sorry for getting mad at you. When you asked me to go to that party with you.”

Ben imagined the expression someone would make if they watched their best friend spontaneously turn into a horse. It was a bemused expression, and it suited Leanne’s voice right then quite perfectly. Ben wasn’t usually in the habit of apologising.

“Heh. Well. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to sound so apologetic,” said Leanne.

“No, but… So, um, when was the party, anyway?”

“It’s today, actually. I’m getting ready for it now.”

“Do you still need someone to go with?” Ben asked.

“Erm… Are you sure your body hasn’t been taken over by some party-loving demon?”

“Damn it. You caught me.”

They laughed. The sound felt good for Ben- raw against his throat, but good. Whisper probably laughed with Julian like this. Whisper probably… But who cared what goddamn Whisper did, anyway?

“But yeah,” said Leanne, her voice slightly shyer than usual. “I still need someone to go with. And… my best friend would be good.”

“Okay, so I’ll go with you,” said Ben, leaning down to pick up his apron, still scrunched up on the floor. He walked across to the peg he’d taken it from and hung it up. “As your friend,” he added quickly. “Your best friend.”

“Well, yeah,” said Leanne. She giggled. “I can’t believe I ever thought you could be more than that. You’ve got the emotional range of… I was going to say a teaspoon, but to be honest, you’ve got less emotional range than a teaspoon, Ben.”

He wondered whether he should be grateful she know longer had a crush on him, or annoyed that his best friend had just compared him to a teaspoon. “Thanks.”

“You want to meet for milkshakes first? I can be in town in half an hour.”

“The milkshakes bar, half an hour. See you there.”

“See you.” Leanne rang off.

Ben smiled slightly at how quickly the weight fall back down on his chest as he stopped talking. Stuffing his phone back into his jeans pocket, he contemplated leaving a note or something to Whisper, telling him he was leaving early.

Contemplated being the key word, here. Ben didn’t leave a note, because, he thought, why should he?

Whisper could figure out the details without him. Ben was sure Julian would be happy to help, after all.

 

-

WHISPER

A ROMANCE BY MIRLOTTA


//cover by @anna mv.\\

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