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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24. CHAPTER TWENTY TWO| Disillusion: Part One

 

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a boy- all alone except for the mocking distrust he drove into anyone that might have gotten close to him. He did not want company and he did not want pity, and so he lived a solitary existence blanketed tight in his own self-absorption. The corner of his mouth curled upwards, like a prayer, and yet this boy’s smiles were foreign and empty.

Once, maybe, he’d had friends.

That was a very long time ago.

His parents, naturally, were very worried for their only child. His name was Julian, which meant ‘youthful’- but at sixteen years old, his years seemed to triple when his mother and father looked into his eyes. Julian was very clever, which is not always a good thing.

Sometimes, children are too clever for their own good.

It’s a human instinct- no one likes to feel inferior. Julian would fritter away his school days on laughing at his teachers’ mistakes and raising eyebrows at his classmates. He made other people’s smallest errors seem just as consequential as handing over the government nuclear defence plans to North Korea; sneering and taunting and drawling his way through interactions that could have bought him friends, if only he’d gone about it less predisposed to hate and hurt.

Julian’s family was very rich, but that was one thing he never made the effort to buy: friendship.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t interact nicely with other people. Julian had been in three different romantic relationships by the time he was sixteen, and only one of those had ended because he ‘wasn’t compassionate enough’. (And Julian had only been out with that girl for about a month, anyway, and she was a complete and utter sap.) The thing was, though, all three of those relationships had only started in the first place because someone had been attracted by his please-go-away-I-probably-don’t-want-to-talk-to-you disposition.

That’s something funny about love, come to think of it. Spend a couple of months with someone, and suddenly, those cute little traits that make them individual? Those are exactly the particulates of personality that you’d sell to Satan the minute you got the chance.

Generally, a couple of weeks or years or days into the relationship, Julian’s new girlfriend or boyfriend would start trying to ‘reform’ him. As if his snide comments and sarcastic glances were a disease or a silly little quirk, rather than an integral part of who he was. Julian would let them stress and cry and attempt the impossible- sometimes, he’d even toy with letting them believe their relationship could work, and that he would try and change.

But he didn’t. He never did.

When the relationships all inevitably ended up breaking off, Julian largely didn’t care. There’d always be someone else, after all. He wasn’t the type to enjoy senseless tears or messy goodbye speeches.

It wouldn’t take too much effort to find someone else to make out with, if it came down to it.

Sometimes, children are too clever for their own good.

To put it simply, Julian was what his parents called ‘a loner’, what his teachers called ‘going through a difficult phase’ and what his classmates called ‘a total dick’.

It was four weeks into his sixteenth year when the impossible finally happened.

Something changed. Julian changed.

And he met a boy he really cared about.

This boy was called Whisper, and when he smiled – shit - Julian felt as if all the lost wonders of the ancient world had been discovered again in that one expression.

Best of all, the smiles were all for Julian.

It was magic.

Whisper Anderson was exactly the sort of person that Julian never expected to fall in love with. Whisper laughed too much and smiled too genuinely and seemed to look on the sky as a canvas for his dreams, rather than some great expanse of cloud and colour that locked him to the planet like a seatbelt. Julian couldn’t stand the sky; partly because it seemed endless and boring and reminded him of how tiny he was, but mostly just because he kept cricking his neck when he tried to look up at it.

When they met, neither of them stared at the sky once, for they were so busy staring at each other.

It was at a cross country event that Julian first saw Whisper, although such details were just as insignificant as life before they knew each other, really.

Whisper wasn’t participating, either way- he’d been wheelchair-bound since birth, and had only come to the event at all because his support group was volunteering as event marshals. Julian was supposed to be running, because his parents still hadn’t quite come to terms with the fact his most recent relationship had been with a guy, and because his mother was certain that vigorous exercise was clearly the ideal thing for helping Julian to ‘man up’.

In Julian’s opinion, all unwanted vigorous exercise seemed to do was make him sweat- and that red, sticky, slicked-back look was never going to make any girl fall for him, if that’s where his mother was trying to go with this.

Still, Julian hated effort, and it was effort to argue with his parents on this matter. On the day of the run, he trudged through some standardly boggy-and-disgusting field to the registration area, where Whisper sat waiting behind a fold-away table.

“Hello,” said Whisper.

Julian rolled his eyes and spoke in his best I-really-don’t-want-to-be-here monotone. “I’m here to register for the cross country run.”

Whisper flicked a paperclip at him. “Brilliant. And I said hello to you, and it’s only manners to say hello back.” Whisper flicked another paperclip and grinned. “Or don’t they have manners, wherever you came here from?”

Julian ignored him, brushing a paperclip from his shirt and letting it fall to the floor.

“That’s littering,” said Whisper, raising his eyebrow pointedly. He sighed. “Right. Right. It’s probably quite annoying to have someone flick paperclips at you. Please, though, could you pick it up for me? I’m sorry- I’m just so bored, I can barely stand.” He paused. “That was a joke, by the way. Because I’m in a wheelchair. And, you know, I literally cannot stand at all.”

Blinking, Julian looked at Whisper and took in the wheelchair. He did not notice the green of his eyes or the smell of his hair or the fleck of a freckle on his left hand. All that was to come later. For now, Julian merely noticed that Whisper was a boy, and bored, and sitting in a wheelchair.

Julian snorted. “I might have laughed, if it were a funny joke. Or if I’d noticed the chair.”

“You didn’t notice?” asked Whisper eagerly- and then, as if smoothing out his excitement- “Oh. Of course not. I’m behind a table, I guess.” He took a deep breath. “So. Looking forwards to the race?”

Julian rolled his eyes. “Look me right in the eye. Go on, lean in close.” Whisper obliged. Julian spat in his face, which was probably uncalled for- but then again, he really was in a terrible mood, and he really didn’t want to be talking to some random events marshal. “Do I look like I’m excited for the race?”

“Um,” started Whisper, wiping his face with his coat sleeve and jerking away abruptly. “That’s disgusting.”

“So’s running cross country, but people still do it. I was proving a point.”

“Yeah, yeah. I bet you just wanted to look cool and spit at someone like you’re in a movie.”

Julian cracked a smile. “Okay, you got me there.”

“Even if it looked cool, it was still disgusting though. And gross.” Whisper gave a wheedling smile. Which was astonishing, really, because not many people like to smile at someone who’s just literally assaulted them. “You should apologise.”

Julian complied, surprising himself. “Sorry.” He paused. “Anyway. I need to register. For the race.”

“The one that you don’t want to do and definitely aren’t excited for,” prompted Whisper.

“I’m not a runner.”

 “You’re more of a runner than me.”

“Okay, but with me I’m just lazy.” Julian rolled his eyes, leaning forwards to rest on the table. “Do you know why I’m here? Really?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Because the last person I dated was a guy, not a girl, and my parents think that forcing me into running a cross country race is going to change that. Is going to change me.”

Whisper raised an eyebrow. “So,” he said, “what are you going to do about it?”

“What?”

“Why don’t you just tell your parents that they’re acting like idiots?”

“I’ve tried.”

“Try harder.”

 “Effort. They won’t listen.”

“Why don’t you just refuse to run?”

“Effort.”

“Why don’t you do something that you want to do, instead? Why don’t you, you know- travel the world? Or- or- or write a novel? Or go to the moon? Or start a new TV show? Or rename the stars? Or-”

Julian’s eyes rolled back to reveal bleak, white disinterest. ”Effort. Can I have the sign-up sheet?”

Whisper sunk down in his chair in exasperation, slumping his shoulders. As he rummaged through the various papers littering the table top, a slow smile bounced back across his lips. Whisper was like that, Julian would later find out. A rubber boy, leading a rubber life. Nothing that bent him out of shape couldn’t bend back, and nothing that tarnished his world would tarnish it for long.

Julian found this out later. Much later. Maybe too late.

Now, Whisper looked back up at Julian, broadly grinning again. “You’ll do whatever takes the least amount of effort, right?”

“Generally. No promises.”

“So…” Whisper produced a fat wad of registration forms and ripped them up in front of Julian. “It’s going to be a whole lot of effort to get some new registration forms ready in time for the run.”

Sometimes, children are too clever for their own good.

Julian’s mouth gaped open just slightly, and newfound respect slipped in. “There are probably other people that want to register still.”

Whisper laughed.  “Screw them.” He pulled a face. “We’ll be long gone by the time anyone notices there’s no registration forms.”

Julian raised an eyebrow. “We?”

“Sure,” said Whisper. “You’re exactly the type of wholesome guy I’d like to spend the rest of my morning with. So let’s ditch together.”  

“And why would I want to ditch with you? You’re-”

“Gay. Totally. One hundred percent not the kind of guy your parents would approve of.”

Julian smirked. Beneath many, many layers of pretending not to care, he really was annoyed that his parents were forcing him to run in the name of ‘turning-him-straight-again’. “Are you flirting with me? Because, honestly, I kind of prefer the more subtle approach.”

“Subtlety’s my middle name.”

“Suuuuurrrreeee.”

“No, seriously.” Whisper laughed. “Subtlety’s my middle name. Well- one of them. I’ve got a lot. That happens, sometimes, when your parents can’t decide which of Times’s Top 100 Unpopular Baby Names they like best.”

“What’s your first name, then? Persistence? Stubbornness? Likes-to-flirt-even-with-guys-who-spit-in-his-face?”

“That last one.” Whisper laughed, the wind blowing his hair wildly around his head. “No, seriously, I’ll tell you once you agree to ditch this place with me. It’s not like you can do much now, anyway- without a registration form and all that.”

Julian took a deep breath. And then a sigh. And then another deep breath. And then he nodded. “Whatever. Let’s go.” Julian smirked, arching an eyebrow. “I’ve got nothing better to do.”

“Was that an innuendo?”

Julian smiled, long and slow. “I’ve got nothing better to do.”

“Cross-country?” Whisper suggested innocently, nudging their hands against each other across the table.

“Ugh,” said Julian, and then he leaned forwards, and then he kissed Whisper on the mouth.

It was spontaneous and weird and their teeth touched together twice, but no one complained.

After all, kissing was a billion times better than cross country, any day.

-

Kisses are precarious things.

It would have been easy, when Julian kissed Whisper, for that to have been it. Kisses are only kisses, after all, and so flimsy that alone they can only barely support even the foundations of a romance. But then the kiss lead to escaping together away from the cross country and into rapid, constant conversation. The kiss lead to names, and jokes, and the sort of laughter that makes coffins crouch lower in the earth, should the sound wake the dead. The kiss lead to phone numbers exchanged and introducing Whisper to Julian’s parents as a non-negotiable boyfriend, and on these many things the kiss became concrete, rather than wishes.

So, a kiss became a relationship, and a relationship honeyed out into a love.

Still - though quite a bit separate from a kiss - love is a precarious thing all the same.

Julian and Whisper did not expect to have a future together transcending time itself. That does not tend to come about in this modern world. These days, people are rational and expectations are wiser and movies are already there to satisfy such fantasies anyway. Nevertheless, they did not expect to hand stitch their relationship into a tightrope, the same colour as background noise and yet utterly necessary to continue on living.

Maybe they might have expected this, were they not too busy being meaninglessly clever at a million other things. That is the way of the world, you see.

Sometimes, children are too clever for their own good.

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