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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18. CHAPTER SIXTEEN| Hormones

Ben shifted uncomfortably as Whisper searched through the photos on his phone. He had perched on the edge of Whisper's bed, after convincing Merridew to drive them both back to Whisper's house instead of dropping Ben off at his own home. At first, Ben had been sure that this would be the perfect thing to take his mind off his mother (and her supposed lover). Whisper was smart. Whisper was sweet. Whisper always knew what to do. 

Whisper was like the sun splitting a clouded day down the middle. His smiles, to Ben, were like the climax of a novel, and his kisses were the chorus to a treasured favourite song. 

Unfortunately, right now Whisper seemed a little preoccupied by his phone. 

"We should go talk to July," said Ben, after a long silence. "Today. Now. Or, soon, anyway."

"Hmm?" said Whisper, not raising his gaze from his phone screen. "Oh, yeah." 

"Thanks for letting me come back to your house, as well. I'm really grateful." Ben tried for a smile.

"Hmm? Oh, yeah. No problem."  

Raising an eyebrow, Ben looked at Whisper sidelong. "Hey. Are you listening to me?"

"Hmm? Oh, yeah." 

Ben raised an eyebrow in mock suspicion. "So, okay, I'm thinking that later today you're going to mysteriously morph into a purple-spotted blue elephant, right? And you're going to change your name to Rambunctious Ramsbottom. And-"

"Oh," interrupted Whisper absentmindedly, cutting Ben off. "Yeah, if you want."

"Whisper," snorted Ben, rolling his eyes. He waved a hand in front of Whisper's face, his fingers long like a musician's. "Whisper, you do realise that you have just agreed to change your name to Rambunctious Ramsbottom, right? And you don't even have legal name-changing documents or anything yet. In fact, I don't even think seventeen year olds are allowed to change their names, so you're probably going to have to wait another year, anyway..."

Whisper blinked, looking up. "Huh?" He shook his head, grinning at Ben weakly. "Sorry. I was just zoning out for a second there."

Ben nudged him with his elbow. "I don't mind." He stuck out his tongue. "I don't mind that much, anyway." 

"Hmm? Oh, yeah," answered Whisper, then winked as Ben rolled his eyes. "I'm joking, I'm joking. Sorry." Whisper waved his hand vaguely through the air as if he expected it to part at his touch. "I have this estranged cousin that I'm meeting for the first time in a couple of days. She just sent me the final arrangements now, and a picture of herself so I know who to look for when we meet. I was trying to find any resemblance to myself in the photo, but so far..." Whisper grinned, shaking his head. "We're going to go bowling."

"Oh," said Ben, not quite sure whether Whisper was serious or not. He sounded serious, sure, but then again... Ben had to be honest- estranged cousins were more common in crappy D-list movies than anything else. But Ben never knew quite what to expect, with Whisper. It was something he loved most about the guy. "Estranged cousin?" 

"Yeah. My mum ran away to marry my dad and left her entire family behind. They were really against it because he didn't used to have a job or anything. Or a house. Or a car. I think he just, like, bummed it at festivals and stuff."

"Wow," said Ben, whose parents had met in an entirely ordinary way, through university house parties. "Um. So you're only just meeting your cousin now?"

"Uh-huh. She's called Sophia. She had to beg her parents to even phone me. My mum's been out of touch with my uncle - her brother - for years." 

Ben studied Whisper carefully, then looked away. He flicked at the corner of Whisper's duvet- it was a soft, plushy white colour, that reminded Ben of sitting on a powdery mixture of hope and snow. 

"What?" asked Whisper, his lips pulling up at one corner. "What is it?"

Ben shook his head, smirking. "It's just... Estranged cousin? Are you serious?"

"Deadly," said Whisper, nodding earnestly. "Here." 

He twisted round, showing Ben his phone screen. There was a picture of a dark-eyed, average build girl of about fifteen, her hair short and cropped in curls close to her head. "That's her. Doesn't look much like me, huh?"

Frowning, Ben scoured the image for any sign of Whisper's features, and then said the first thing that came to mind. "She's black?"

"Um," said Whisper, as if trying to hold back a laugh. "Careful, Ben, or you'll run Captain Obvious out of his job." 

"Yeah, yeah," muttered Ben under his breath, embarrassed. "Says the guy who's planning on changing his name to Rambunctious Ramsbottom." 

Whisper tilted his head on one side, as if he'd misheard. "Sorry, what?"

"Doesn't matter." Ben shrugged. "I just didn't expect it, that's all. She really doesn't look like you."

"That's what I'm trying to say!" said Whisper, clapping his hands together as if Ben had finally grasped the meaning of life, the universe, and everything in it. "I thought maybe our noses were kind of similar... Or our ears, but..."

Slowly, Ben reached out a hand to smooth Whisper's hair behind his ear. "Hmm. Nope, I don't see it." He let his fingers linger there a moment longer, following the curve of Whisper's face along the side of his jaw. 

And then, time stopped. 

Just like that. It was as if some great superior being had clicked their great superior fingers, and the world had stuttered to a halt. Or in a play, at that point where the actors suddenly stop and stand still- before the curtain falls down, or the audience take their cue to applaud.

Time stopped, and Ben's hand on Whisper's cheek felt like hushed perfection. 

Then Whisper pulled away, his face flushing a deep red. He bit his lip, chewing on it gently. "Um. I, er-"

"Hey, Whisper?" asked Ben, his voice a nice kind of teasing. 

"What?"

"Someone who's vaguely kind of cool once told me that blushing's just a boner on your face," Ben drawled, remembering Whisper's earlier words to him. 

Whisper flushed an even deeper red. It must have been the equivalent to a hell of a boner. "When did you start making so many jokes?" Whisper asked, ducking his head a little. He grinned and reached onto the bed behind him, throwing a star shaped cushion at Ben's head. It missed wildly, landing next to Whisper's chest of drawers on the other side of the room.

"Careful," said Ben, trying to swallow a laugh. "Practice throwing that a bit more, and one day it might actually hit me." The laugh burst out as a delighted sort of giggle that reeked of childishness, smacking Ben square on the face in sheer unexpectedness. 

Whisper smiled indulgently, stretching his arms out above his head. His back arched, and it seemed almost elegant the way his whole body curved under his harsh bedroom lighting. Yawning loudly, he threw his arm around Ben's shoulders in happy abandon. "I like your laugh. I mean, that just there was like the sound of a drowning platypus... But, you know, a drowning platypus that sounded happy." Whisper tilted his head to face the ceiling, beaming until his eyes squinted closed. "I like it when you're happy."

"Mmm. I am kind of depressing a lot of the time, aren't I?"

"No one could blame you if you were. And you're not, anyway. But I still like it when you're happy."

"Yeah?" 

"Yeah," said Whisper, then thrust his phone into Ben's hand. "Now here, hold this. I've got something to show you; I'll go and get it now." 

"Oh! Okay, I'll wait here, then," said Ben, taken aback as Whisper propelled himself through his open bedroom door, disentangling his arm from round Ben's shoulders. Ben looked down at the phone left in his hands. The picture of Sophia was still on the screen. She was fairly pretty, Ben supposed, in an average kind of way. Like, if you saw her in the street you'd welcome the sight of her, but you wouldn't bother walking backwards to watch her go. 

Not that Ben ever walked backwards in the middle of the street, but you know what I mean.

Softly humming a tune he didn't know and wouldn't remember, Ben placed the phone beside him on the bed. He looked around the room with some interest, noting the new children's picture books on Whisper's shelf. Walking over to the shelf, Ben stroked his finger down the shiny new spines. 

The colours were so bright, they might have been singing.

It's funny, how colours always seem to draw people in. Modern day sirens, Ben had long ago decided, would likely have all manner of vividly dyed hair. In this world of black and white business suits and black and white emotion, colour has become hopelessly attractive.

So Ben moved to pull one of the picture books from the shelf and take a look at all its beautiful, garish colour. He started, slightly, as a couple of slightly worn photographs fell out from beside it. They'd been squeezed between the book Ben had removed, and another book of Whisper's.

And now they were scattered across the floor like fragmented memories. Which Ben supposed was all that they were, really. 

Distracted, he slotted the picture book back onto the shelf. Then, stooping down to pick the photos up again, he drew up with a start, swearing under his breath as he banged his head on the bookcase. The pictures had fallen face up- and it was a severely unwelcome face that smiled up at Ben, now. 

Why do people smile in pictures, as a matter of interest? Even when they're not happy, people see it as their duty to smile. It was the opposite in older days. Ben had looked through practically ancient photograph albums from his great grandparents, and in those photographs it was rare to catch anyone but young children and babies showing any hint of teeth.

Now, Ben thought of none of this as he stared transfixed at the upturned pictures. Julian's perpetually smirking face met his gaze, Whisper beaming beside him. They were holding ice creams, both their hair wildly windswept. On the bottom of the image was a date: the photo had been taken approximately a year ago.

Julian looked happy. Whisper looked happy.

Ben wondered whether Whisper looked that happy when he was with Ben. 

Leafing through the images, Ben stopped at a photo of Julian carrying Whisper bridal style. Whisper's arms were thrown up to the sky, as if in some kind of exuberant exhalation. Julian's smile was slightly strained- strained, but still genuine. 

Ben pondered uncertainly how heavy Whisper was. He was probably underweight, if anything, but he was still fairly tall- a little gangly. Would Ben be able to lift him, if he tried?

His thoughts were interrupted as Whisper's mobile began vibrating from the bed. Gathering up the photographs, Ben was still holding them as he went for the phone. 

"Whisper," he began, calling for the other boy. "Whisper, your pho-"

Ben stopped short, his eyes widening as he looked at the phone screen. 

The text that Whisper had just received was from an unknown sender. It went like this:

'Hi Sarah,

You're hot when you're leaving your family for me. Too much? 

Dan x' 

Dan x. Dan fucking x.

Ben frowned in disbelief, his forehead wrinkling like he'd been in a swimming pool for too long. He'd written 'Dan x' off as some smarmy idiot from his mum's work- no one he wanted to know, but no one particularly sinister, either. But how could this 'Dan' have Whisper's number? He hadn't even addressed the message to Whisper, for God's sake. 

It was 'Hi Sarah'. Sarah, Ben's mum. 

Swallowing a pint of palpable fear, the phone slipped inside the grip of Ben's clamming palms. He shook his head in denial, but denial leaves an arid taste at the best of times. 

"Ben?" came Whisper's voice, drifting in from a room down the hall. "Ben? Did you shout for me just now?" 

Startled, Ben dropped the phone back face down on the bed, licking his lips nervously. As Whisper came back into the bedroom, Ben stuffed the photographs inside his jeans pocket without thinking, gnawing on the inside of his cheek. 

What the hell was 'Dan x' doing texting Whisper? 

"Ben?" asked Whisper, again. "Sorry I took a while. I bought you a present the other day, but I'd forgotten where I'd put it. Found it now though." He grinned, gesturing to a small gift badly wrapped in Christmas paper. Instead of a ribbon, it was tied with what looked to be a shredded t-shirt. Whisper tilted his head to one side, as if analysing the hidden intricacies of Ben's face. "Hey, you okay?"

"I'm-" Ben cut off, flicking his tongue over his teeth. He should talk to Whisper. That was the right thing to do- the sensible thing to do. Whisper would have an explanation for why 'Dan x' was texting him. Whisper would- 

"Ben?"

"I'm... I'm fine. Sorry. Just had some stuff on my mind." 

Whisper nodded sympathetically. "Anyone would in your situation. Don't worry, zoning out like that isn't weird or anything. I do it all the time. It's hard to get through life without a little zoning out."

"I- I know. Thanks. I'm fine."

Ben screamed internally. He was not fine. He was anything but fine, and he needed to talk to Whisper urgently. Unfortunately, the words had wedged themselves into the back of his throat like puzzle pieces that refused to slot in place. 

What would Ben say, anyway? 'Hey, Whisper, have any secrets you've not been telling me? Maybe your name's actually Sarah or something. I won't judge if it is, but if it isn't then explain why you just got a text addressed to my mother.'

Better to say nothing at all. Whisper smiled at Ben gently, and Ben beamed back. With the lower half of his face, anyway. The smile never reached his eyes. 

"Good," said Whisper. "It's good if you're fine. But it's fine if you're not fine, either." His eyes lit up hopefully, and he pushed the present he was holding into Ben's hands. "Here. I saw this the other day and thought of you. Think of it as a pre-Valentine's Day gift or something."

Ben arched an eyebrow, pulling at the shredded t-shirt strands that held the wrapping paper together. "Valentine's Day's in half a year," he said flatly, trying to will some emotion into his voice. 

Whisper waved a hand extravagantly. "Pre-Christmas, then. Pre-Halloween. Pre... Damn it, can you think of any more holidays?" 

Shaking his head, Ben looked at the present in his lap, the wrapping paper discarded around it. "It's a key," he said softly, stroking it gingerly. It was wooden and hand carved, intricate patterns looping round its shaft. 

"Press down the button at the end of it," said Whisper eagerly. "It plays a song."

Ben obliged, and they listened in silence as a twinkling melody buzzed and whirred its way from inside the key. Gradually, a sense of recognition dawned on him. "It's Justin Bieber," said Ben slowly, naming the singer's latest hit. "I kind of expected Beethoven."

"I chose to have this song play specially. I know you like it." 

 "Actually, I hate this song."

"Really?" asked Whisper, with some disappointment. "But it's your ringtone, isn't it?"

Only because it was Seb's, first. 

"Yeah," answered Ben, a little dully. "And it's a song that I always want to remember." He looked up at Whisper, suddenly touched that they boy had remembered something as trivial as his ringtone. "Thanks," said Ben quietly, and he was surprised to feel tears wetting his lashes. "I love it."

"I knew you would."

Silence, then. Only for a little while. Ben shut his eyes, then opened them, turning the key over in his hands. It fitted there perfectly. "What's it for, though? What's the key supposed to open?"

"What does it unlock?" Whisper rolled his eyes expressively. "My heart. Duh."

The kiss that followed was all very good and nice, but it didn't stop Ben from wishing he'd confronted Whisper about the message from 'Dan x'. And then the kiss became sweeter, rougher, and Ben didn't wish for anything anymore, except Whisper.

Stupid hormones. 

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