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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5. CHAPTER THREE| Panic

 

After school, instead of heading directly to Whisper’s house, Ben headed for the hospital. The walk wasn’t really that long, and besides, it wasn’t like he was completely desperate to see Whisper again right away or anything. No, he resolved firmly, Whisper’s house could wait.

Ben had more important things on his mind.

Namely, how the heck Seb’s driving licence had turned up on a school bench. He hadn’t even known it was missing. Slipping his hand into his blazer pocket, he pulled out the licence and stared at it for so long, anyone would think it had started quacking like a duck. Yep, it’s still Seb’s, he thought bitterly, rolling his eyes. So how could it turn up at school?

A small-but-undeniably-very-alluring thought at the back of Ben’s mind started pushing a cause. What if Seb had been the one to drop the licence? Could he have woken up in the time Ben had been at school?

Seb had always kept his wallet – and his licence inside it – hidden where only he could find it. That was just the kind of secretive person he was. Not even Ben knew where Seb hid it. And so, it stood to reason that the only person who could have known where the licence was to then accidentally misplace it at school was…

“Seb!” cried a girl’s voice in Ben’s ear, sweet and sugary. An American. She threw an arm round Ben’s shoulder, standing so close to him that he could smell her perfume, its tropical scent getting caught in his throat.

Ben turned around to look at her and hit his head against hers. He winced, rubbing his scalp in irritation. “Jesus Christ!” He shook himself, trying to keep his voice civil and ultimately failing.  “Personal space! Ever heard of that?”

The girl shrugged as she stepped away, tossing her dyed-white hair. Though she was wearing school uniform, Ben was certain that they’d never crossed paths in his life. She was a complete stranger, and the casual way she spoke to him – as if they’d known each other for a long time – made him uneasy. “Sorry about that. I thought that you were someone else.”

Ben stared at the floor in confusion, his face crinkling up like a discarded application letter. His hair fell in his face like dark smudges of ink; his mouth a rip in the paper. When he spoke, Ben’s voice was quiet, uncertain. “Yeah. Seb – you thought that I was Seb. How… How do you know him?”

 There was no reply. When Ben looked up again, bewildered, the girl was walking fast in the opposite direction. Ben didn’t bother calling out for her to stop.

She was probably just one of Seb’s jerky new friends. The friends who don’t ever bother visiting him or pretending to miss him. Not one of them has even sent him a card, for God’s sake.

Whatever.

Ben raked a hand through his hair, sighing as the hospital came into view. The small-but-undeniably-very-alluring thought at the back of his mind started making banners and handing out leaflets until it was all that occupied his head.

Seb might have woken up.

The thought taunted Ben, encouraging his legs to move faster and his arms to pump the air as he walked. One step, two more, and he’d reached the hospital entrance.

Seb might have woken up.

Before Ben could realise what he was doing, he was running up the stairs with no regard for propriety. “Visiting hours are almost over!” called a voice from behind a desk, but Ben ignored it in the same way he’d been ignoring so many of his old friends since Seb’s coma.

 He’s awake right now. I’m going to walk up to his bed but there’s going to be no one there. He’ll have gone home, to see Mum and Dad.

Ben sprinted into Seb’s ward, grateful that there was no one else walking along the corridor to reprimand him. As he reached the right room he spotted Seb’s bed in the corner, the curtain drawn. His footsteps slowed as he walked towards it, each pause between his foot lifting and connecting with the ground an unspoken wish.

Please. Please. Please let Seb have woken up.

Steeling himself, Ben closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. Then, with only a slight hesitation, he yanked the curtain aside like a magician impatient to finish his trick.

Reality punched him in the stomach.

Seb lay on the bed, still in his coma. Worse, Ben realised, as he listened to his brother’s laboured breathing – something was wrong.

His brother’s body jerked as if about to begin to spasm in earnest, the repetitive Darth Vader-esque hiss of his breath scratchy, sticking like Velcro inside his mouth. Ben tensed, his jaw twitching. Seb never normally sounded like this when Ben came to visit. Never.

Ben scanned the small cubicle frantically, praying for an answer to jump out and perform an impromptu tap-dance so obvious that even the densest of people couldn’t miss it. Unfortunately, answers have never been the tap-dancing sort. They prefer to linger – no, skulk – in the background, which all in all makes them both evasive and extremely annoying.

Sucking in his cheeks tersely, Ben’s heart skipped a beat every time Seb made the horrible growling noise that he was apparently substituting for breathing. Something was definitely, without a doubt, the epitome of wrong. The problem was, Ben just couldn’t figure out what.

Frowning, he reached out and pulled the alarm cord, hoping that a nurse would come quickly.

Ben eyed the heart rate monitor next to the bed. Biting his lip, he prayed to whichever god might deign to listen – a quick paced, furious prayer that mostly consisted of the words ‘let’, ‘him’, ‘be’ and ‘okay’ in rapid fire succession.

It was another ten seconds before Ben saw it.

At first he thought it might just have been his eyes, but then he leaned closer and discovered that his vision wasn’t playing up, and was in fact just as perfect as it always had been.

There was no doubt about it: something was partially blocking one of Seb’s breathing tubes.

Ben leant forward, shaking slightly, trying to inspect the blockage through the translucent sheen of the tube. He couldn’t risk touching anything due to having no medical experience whatsoever, but he knew that whatever the thing was in Seb's tube, it had to go.

All Ben could do was wait for the nurse to come. And hope. Ben could still hope.

Some good hope did.

He curled his hands into fists, his teeth audibly scraping against each other. It had barely been a minute since he’d pulled the alarm cord, but to Ben it felt like he was watching millennia stream by before him. An endless, ever going mash of years and years and years that he couldn’t do anything to alter or change.

The sound of a flurry of footsteps getting closer was such a staggering relief that he almost passed out. By the time the nurse stood beside him, Ben was already swaying on his feet. Get a grip, you idiot. Pull it together. For Seb.

“What is it?” asked the nurse, his bald head shining with sweat. It gave him a slight resemblance to an egg. His badge read ‘Nurse Simpson’ in stark black Ariel. “What’s wrong?”

Ben opened his mouth but no words came out, his throat drying up at the most inconvenient of times. He pointed at Seb’s tubes with an unsteady hand, rocking on his feet. “The…” He licked his lips, swallowing. “My brother… His breathing tubes.”

Nurse Simpson leant forwards to examine the apparatus, standing upright with a much more serious sense of urgency. Pulling a hand-held intercom device from his pocket, he spoke into it in clipped, precise tones. “Situation on Ward 3. There’s some sort of blockage in the patient’s nasal cannula. It’s clearly only been there a short time, but if he doesn’t get urgent care quickly there’s risk of furthering the anoxic brain injury.”

Ben felt his back crumple under the weight of the hefty medical terminology. His knees sagged, the world running circles around him, too fast for him to try and keep up.

“Hey! Wait, are you okay? You look like a ghost, you’re that pale!”

Ben was vaguely aware of the nurse speaking to him in concern, not quite certain that the strong arms wrapping round his body and keeping him from falling to the floor were real.

His head throbbed. His ears buzzed. His eyes closed.

When he regained consciousness, Ben was lying on the hospital floor, his feet propped up on a chair. He didn’t recognise the room he was in. A figure stood over him, and for a second Ben pictured it with Seb’s face before giving in to reality.

The nurse in front of him looked kind of like Seb, he reasoned. Ish. In a weird sort of way. If Seb was middle-aged, white, and bald.

“You fainted,” explained Nurse Simpson kindly, bending down to squat beside Ben. “Don’t try to get up. You’ve got to keep your feet up so that the blood can run back into your head.”

“I-” Ben blinked, squeezing his eyes so hard that it almost hurt. “Seb. My brother. His tubes were blocked. Is… Is he okay?”

“The obstruction’s been removed, don’t worry. Luckily it hadn’t been there long. There’s a team working on restoring his breathing back to normal as we speak.” Nurse Simpson frowned. “It turned out to be half of a novelty rubber in his tubes. You know, the kind you’d use at school. It's probably some kid playing a joke, but it's a life threatening joke all the same. The police'll be looking into it.”

Ben paused. “Do you have cameras in this ward?”

“What?”

“Cameras. If you have cameras in here, whoever put that rubber in Seb’s tube will have been caught on tape.”

Nurse Simpson shrugged sympathetically. “You sound like you’ve been reading too much Agatha Christie, kid. However that rubber got there, like I said, the police'll be looking into it. Don’t worry.” His smile tightened. “There aren’t any cameras in this ward, anyway. They’re an invasion of privacy - it’s hospital policy.”

Ben didn’t reply, mainly because he did read a lot of Agatha Christie and he didn’t know how to deny it without making up a very long and ridiculous lie like that he’d definitely end up regretting.

After a while Nurse Simpson stood up again, obviously bored by the lack of response from Ben. “I’ve got work to do, so I’m going to go now. When you’re feeling okay, feel free to leave through the front entrance.” His expression softened slightly as he looked at Ben, sprawled like a wounded soldier on the floor. “And don’t worry. Your brother’s being taken care of – he’ll be fine.”

Ben managed a smile, his lips so stiff that he might have considered oiling them if he’d been made out of tin. “Thanks.”

It was only when Nurse Simpson was out of sight that Ben realised the true awkwardness of lying on his back, alone, in the middle of a hospital floor. He squirmed, trying to sit up, but then his head started spinning and he decided against it.

Ben sighed.

At least Seb was okay.

If he hadn’t been there when he was, and noticed the blockage, who knows what could have happened to Seb? Probably death. Ben almost laughed at the thought, it surprised him so much. The past six months he’d been skirting around the horrible truth of the situation – that comas often lead to death – and facing up to this fact was enough to blow a hole through half of the mental barriers he’d been putting up around himself.

Only about fifty thousand more to get through.

Ben pushed his hands into his pockets, searching for the driver’s licence. His theory that Seb had put it there had turned out to be a load of balls, after all, because Seb was still in a coma. Maybe looking at the licence again would be enough to stir some further ideas.

The licence wasn’t in his pocket.

Ben started to do an internal face palm but then decided to go one further and face palmed for real.

He winced. Partially because of the pain of face palming, but mostly because he couldn't beleive he'd been stupid enough to somehow misplace Seb's driving licence. Carefully, Ben began removing the entire contents of his blazer pocket – twenty pence, a dusty yellow skittle, an old timetable from when he was in year nine, Whisper’s phone number scrawled on a scratty piece of lined paper.

No licence.

He checked his other pocket, to the same result.

“Crap!” he gasped aloud, before nearly biting his tongue off in his effort to keep quiet. He’d momentarily forgotten that he was in a hospital, and hospitals are absolutely not places to start cursing at the top of your voice. In his head, however, he could swear as much as he wanted, and the inside of Ben’s mind very suddenly became a vibrantly profane place.

Ben was so annoyed at himself, it wasn’t until seven o’clock that evening that he remembered he’d been supposed to go to Whisper’s house.

And by then, of course, it was much too late.

 

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WHISPER

A ROMANCE BY MIRLOTTA


//cover by @mirlotta\\

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