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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14. CHAPTER TWELVE| Forward

 

Clutching his mobile to his ear, Ben lay splayed out on the sofa. It was incredibly similar to the position he had adopted at the beginning of the last chapter, and Ben had half a mind to begin labelling it the ‘Thinking About Whisper Pose ™’. That was what Ben was doing right now, after all. Thinking about Whisper. Again. The prospect of getting some essays copy and pasted had gone out the window when Ben realised he couldn’t even stomach looking at the laptop anymore.

So, Ben had decided on calling Whisper.

The line clicked. “Whisper?” asked Ben. “Hi, it’s me.”

A muffled silence, and then: “I know, I’ve got caller ID. What’s up? Missing me already?”

“No!” Ben coughed. “I mean, well, um, obviously yes, but, uh-“

“Hey, don’t get so flustered. I know you miss me. And you know what else I know?”

“What?”

“You get so incredibly flustered so incredibly easily… Ben, I’m sorry, but you’d be seriously rubbish in a game of poker.”

Ben’s laugh crept up on him, startling them both as it sprang from his lips. “Thanks.”

“I mean it,” said Whisper, his smirk wrapped like an overcoat over his voice. “This is tough love, Ben. Give up your sleazy-gambler poker player dreams.” Whisper paused for a second or two, the line crackling a little as if he’d covered the speaker with his hand. Just as quickly he was back, and Ben didn’t think anything of it. “Hey, what do you want to be though? Like, what job? Apart from a poker player, obviously.”

“Um. Well. You’ve, uh, got me there. Maybe like a… uh… maybe a neurosurgeon?” Ben said, naming the first job that came into his head. His dad had trained as a neurosurgeon, way back when. And Seb had wanted to be on the police force, but Ben- Ben had never had any idea what he wanted to grow up to do. “Um, no, forget that,” he mumbled, trying to deflect the question. “What do you want to be?”

Whisper was quiet for a second, and Ben wondered, at first, if he’d even heard the question. Then, Whisper spoke, his voice slightly subdued. “I was always thinking of something to do with computers. I like that kind of stuff, you know?”

“Um, yeah, of course! That sounds really cool, Whisper.”

“Ha.” Whisper sighed heavily. “Ha, yeah.”

“What?”

“Seriously, it’s nothing.”

“Sighing like that is not nothing. You sound like… Like a…”

“Depressed whale?” volunteered Whisper, helpfully, sounding more and more depressed and whale-like by the second.

“Exactly! And depressed whale noises aren’t nothing.” Ben paused, chewing on his lip. “Hey, are you at home right now? I mean, I could do with getting out of the house for a bit – my dad’s driving me crazy already, and my mum… A-anyway, what I mean is, do you want me to come over to yours? You sound kind of sad, and-“

Whisper snorted. “Ben, that’s very sweet of you and all, but, like, in the nicest way possible, I legitimately cannot believe how forward you are. I did not have you down as the forward type at all, but you totally, totally are.”

Ben rolled his eyes. “What the hell is ‘the forward type’?”

“You, apparently.” Whisper started to laugh, a little uneasily, but the sound trailed off into silence. “Ha. Seriously, thanks for offering to come round, but to be honest there wouldn’t be any point.”

“There’s always a point. I’d get to be with you,” said Ben, and then winced at how utterly cheesy he sounded. If there was a prize for the cheesiest thing Ben had said all year, those two sentences – ‘There’s always a point. I’d get to be with you.’ – would hands down win the award.

There was a pained silence from Whisper’s end of the line.

“Whisper?”

“Um,” said Whisper, his voice tiny. “Yeah. Well. Thing is, you wouldn’t. I’m not at home right now.”

“So where are you?” asked Ben, oblivious and naive and emotionally-childlike as ever. “Can I come meet you, or is this a bad time? I’ll bring food, if food’s what you want.” He smiled to himself. “Pocky sticks?”

“Ben,” said Whisper, slowly. “Ben, I’m at the hospital.”

Blinking, Ben wondered if he’d heard correctly. “Volunteering? But I thought you only did that on Saturdays? I thought-“

“No,” said Whisper. “No, Ben, I’m at the hospital, and I’m not volunteering or helping the elderly or whatever the hell you’re going to guess next.” His voice quavered up an octave, betraying a fear that Ben had never seen in Whisper before. “I’m having an operation in two weeks’ time, okay? I’m having a goddamn operation on my spine and I’m at the hospital today for final scans and a lumbar puncture and holy crap, Ben, I’m fucking terrified. I’m in the waiting room right now, but you know, it feels like my whole life’s been a waiting room, and nothing’s ever going to happen because nothing-”

Whisper broke off, the silence crackling with a terse, electric kind of static. “So that’s why you can’t come round my house and see me. That’s why bringing food isn’t going to make everything better. Okay?”

“Whisper,” said Ben, his voice muted. “Whisper, why the hell didn’t you tell me before now? You must have known for ages about this! Don’t you have to have, like, scans and tests and-”

“And I’ve known you for less than a month, Ben! Less than a month!” Whisper’s voice was shaky, almost hysterical. With obvious effort, he tried to regain composure. “Ben, don’t freak out, okay? I’ve had operations before- when I was little, sure, and it’s not like I can remember them now, but-“

“Stay where you are,” said Ben, suddenly. “I’m going to come and meet you at the hospital.”

“It’s not like I can go anywhere,” muttered Whisper dryly. “Seriously, Ben, you don’t have to. I’ll be out the hospital by tonight, anyway. It’s just a preliminary injection and stuff.”

Ben stood up from his position on the sofa, tightening his ponytail. “And I’m going to go and sit in that hospital waiting room and wait for you. However long I have to wait, I don’t care, Whisper – I don’t give a damn – because I’ll be waiting for you.” He headed into the porch, pulling on his battered old converse. He still hadn’t got a new car after Seb had wrecked his, so he was going to have to walk the three and a bit miles to the hospital.

Whisper gave a pleased kind of snort. “Okay, so not only are you totally forward but you’re also a hopeless romantic, Ben. I like that.”

“You like romance, huh?”

“Better than prelim injections, anyway.” Whisper coughed. “Hey, Ben, I’ve got to go now. But… But see you in a bit, okay?”

“Yeah,” said Ben. “Yeah, I’ll see you in a bit.” Shoving his mobile inside his jeans pocket, Ben shouted up the stairs to his father. “Dad! I’m just going out to see my friend, okay?”

No reply. Figures, thought Ben in annoyance. He also began a thought about leaving a note to tell his dad where he was going, but cut it in two half way through. He’d been gone all last night, after all, and his dad hadn’t so much as asked where he’d been.

So. To the hospital Ben went, then. He ignored the setting afternoon sun, lazing about in the sky like it had better things to do all day than light up everybody’s world. Maybe, Ben thought, if Whisper took a long time, he could go and check on Seb while he waited. Vent all the annoying stuff their dad had told him. Whine about Mum, and whoever stupid Dan x was. Actually, maybe not, or Seb might be discouraged from actually waking up.

Ben hadn’t seen his brother in a while. He realised, setting off on the long trek to the hospital, that he missed him. Missed him in a way that wasn’t quite so clear cut as grieving, missed him with a panging sort of emptiness in the pit of his stomach that even kisses from Whisper couldn’t fill.

“Seb,” murmured Ben, in half formed prayer to his brother, “Seb, you’d better wake up soon, or goddamn it, I’ll-“

 

Roughly an hour later, Ben walked into the hospital waiting room and sat down in one of the uncomfy hard backed chairs that frequented Support Group. Whisper was nowhere in sight. He folded his arms, unfolded them, and cleared his throat very loudly.

On the row of seats across from him, a tiny baby started to cry. Its mother glared at Ben, rocking it gently against her chest.

Great, thought Ben uncomfortably. Just, great. Now I’m going to get a reputation as Big Bad Ben, the Baby Frightener.

Ben smiled at the baby in an attempt to look less intimidating. Unfortunately, if anything, the baby only cried harder. Now its mother’s glare was looking more like an ‘If You Dare Look At My Child Again I Will Kill The Thing Most Precious To You’ kind of expression, so Ben thought it wise to make a quick exit.

Rising to his feet, he strolled across to the reception desk, behind which sat a very beautiful secretary. Her hair fell prettily around her shoulders; her eyes a clear shade of azure blue. Ben struggled to speak, much less make eye contact. “Um. I’m here to see my brother.”

The beautiful secretary arched a perfectly shaped eyebrow. “Name?”

“Um. Seb. I-I mean, Sebastian. Sebastian Akamatsu. Um. Yes.”

“Visiting hours are over in Ward Three, Sir,” said the secretary, curling her lip. “Though you’re most welcome to wait here.”

“Oh,” said Ben. “Oh, erm, okay then.” Walking back to the rows of seats, he made sure to sit with his back to the mother and her squalling baby. Eyeing the whitewashed wall in front of him, he wondered how much longer Whisper would take.

“Ben!” called a deep man’s voice, and Ben focused his gaze to see a vaguely familiar face in front of him. He smiled awkwardly, shifting in his seat.

“Er… Hi, uh-“

The man gave a strained smile, his bald head shining. “Don’t remember me, son? S’alright, I wouldn’t either. I met you at that…” he paused, shaking his head slightly, “last situation with your brother, Sebastian.” He tapped his name badge, which gleamed proudly above his right breast. “I’m Nurse Simpson. I work on your brother’s ward. You’re here to see him now, right? Why didn’t you just come up? I’m sure you’re very worried.”

Ben stared at the nurse, startled. “Worried? Why would I be-“

Nurse Simpson tossed his head, ushering Ben to his feet. “Don’t panic, of course, Sebastian’s in extremely capable hands here. Doctor Trish is one of the best in the UK.” He started walking at a brisk pace towards a flight of stairs, leaving Ben with no choice but to follow. Looking over his shoulder as he went, he quirked his head back at the waiting room. “What’d you do to that woman with the baby, by the way? She was staring at you like she wanted you were some sort of evil-“

“Big Bad Ben, the Baby Frightener?” offered Ben, chewing nervously on his lip. Why should he be worried about Seb? Nothing else had gone wrong, right? Seb was fine, he had to be fine.

Nurse Simpson looked at Ben as if he’d just proposed they go skinny dipping together in the local aquarium shark tank. “You what, son? I don’t think I heard you right.”

They turned into Ward Three, Seb’s ward. At the end of the long room, Seb’s bed had its curtains drawn. His pace quickening, Ben strode forwards, ahead of Nurse Simpson. “Can I go behind the curtain?”

Nurse Simpson nodded, out of breath. Thing was, ‘can I go behind the curtain’ wasn’t even the real question. What Ben really wanted to know was whether he could stomach whatever was behind it. Taking a deep breath, he pulled it open carefully. There was Sebastian, lying on the bed, a doctor in a hijab bending over him. Sitting in a seat by the bed side, her head in her hands, was Ben’s mother.

She looked up at him, her eyes dusted with tears. “Ben,” she said, softly. “Ben, you shouldn’t be here.”

His mind whirling, Ben sank into the seat beside his mother, staring at his brother incredulously. The doctor shouted something to Nurse Simpson, but it was the kind of foreign medical mumbo-jumbo that only people trained in it can hope to understand.

“What’s happened?” said Ben, his voice hoarse. “Mum, what’s happening?”

“I-“ She shook her head, her fringe falling in her eyes. “I got a phone call a couple of minutes ago, got here as quickly as I could. They- They found shards of glass in Seb’s bed, some down his throat… The hospital told me that they’re going to call in a police inspector to sort things out, that this likely wasn’t an accident, and I-“

The doctor who had been leaning over Seb stood up, walking towards Ben and his mother. “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice calm. “I’m going to have to take Seb to be operated on. You can wait here or in the waiting room, but you aren’t permitted to watch.”

“The…” Ben’s mother’s voice cracked. “Here’s fine, thanks. We’ll wait here.”

The doctor nodded, and Ben watched in a numbed kind of antiseptic silence as a team of doctors rushed in and wheeled away Seb on his hospital bed. Glass. Such a delicate, pretty sort of substance. Shoved down someone’s throat, though, it wouldn’t cause a delicate kind of death.

“He was coughing up blood,” said Ben’s mother weakly. “Coughing up blood and shards of glass.” She shuddered, a sob convulsing through her entire body. “And apparently, someone’s done this to him on purpose. Sebastian. My son.” She wailed, her mascara ringing her eyes in the crumbly black of despair. “Someone’s trying to kill him!”

Ben looked at his mother, blinking slowly. What had July said, back at the party? He’d run it over in his head thousands of times, he couldn’t have forgotten. There’s going to be another attempt on Sebastian’s life. That was it; those were her words, imprinted inside Ben’s skull like that irremovable kind of graffiti that all the local councils hate so much.

Now, her words had come true. There had been an attempt on his brother’s life, and it maybe just might succeed.

And Ben hadn’t even tried to stop it.

Caught up in Whisper and kisses and thinking other things. Alcohol and parties and whatever the hell else he’d been doing with his life, these past few days when he could have been saving Seb.

July had told Ben that he would be next, too. Great. Just, great. Life always knew how to present the very best version of itself.

Ben growled, a low, guttural roar that grew from the abyss of his chest upwards. He glared at his mother, his vision bleary with tears. “Stop crying,” he commanded, fighting the urge to shake her. “Stop crying, goddamn it! You don’t have the right to cry! You don’t have the right-“ He broke off, letting his words cut and shatter his mother’s body like she was the one who’d been lying on a bed of glass.

Yeah, thought Ben, yeah, he’d been distracted by Whisper. But his mother had been distracted, too- and she hadn’t just been distracted by stupid lousy Dan x. By the looks of things, she’d been cheating on her husband, and the rage that Ben felt when he looked at her now was enough to savage and consume his body whole.

“How dare you!” Ben yelled at his mother, an intense, focused sound that summoned all the hurt he felt. “How dare you cry, when all you do is think about yourself? Not Dad, not me. You didn’t think to tell me or Dad that my twin brother is maybe dying, did you? Did you?” He paused for breath, panting heavily.

“Ben,” said his mother, “Ben, calm down, Ben-  people are staring! I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to get worried, honey, I didn’t think-“

“No, that’s what I’m saying! You don’t think, you never think! You can’t be thinking, to go and have an affair when your son’s in a coma and-“

“Hold on, hold on, Ben. I’m not having an affair-“

“Dan! Dan, kiss! I saw the emails, I saw what he said to you! I-“

“Ben, you have to stop, you’re going to get us thrown out!”

 Her son shrugged, shouting a string of abuse that would have made even hardened sailors raise their eyebrows.

“Ben!” cried his mother, her jaw shaking, “Ben, if you don’t stop now-“

“Oh,” said Ben. “Oh, what’ll you do, Mum? Leave me and Seb and Dad for Dan, whoever the hell he is? Is that what you’ll do? Is that what-“

“Excuse me,” said a voice, oozing with disgust. Ben looked up to see the beautiful secretary from before scowling at him. “I’m going to have to ask you to let me escort you outside. I understand that your relative is in distress, but it’s bad for the other patients if you voice your sympathy so loudly.”  

Wordlessly, Ben got to his feet and followed the secretary from the room. He didn’t need words, really. Everything he felt like saying, he’d already screamed at his mother.

Wordlessly was peaceful. Wordlessly gave him room to think.

Ben sighed, and wished that he had scope to be wordless more often. 

 

-

WHISPER

A ROMANCE BY MIRLOTTA


//cover by @violets\\

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