Drowning Lessons

[This is a re-written, edited version of Drowning Lessons. Yup. Literally just that.] There's a trick to building yourself back together. Sam mastered it long ago, and now he's got to try and teach his best friend the same thing. Brandon is sinking fast, and all Sam can do is try to teach him to swim.

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5. Chapter Four

orphic

adj.

mysterious and entrancing;

beyond ordinary understanding

 

 

He was listening to the rock music on his iPod, the volume slightly too loud and staining the roar of the London tube train with a noise that was pure awesome noise. Or at least that was his thoughts in his song choice, anyway, because judging by the furtive glares that were being sent his way, the other passengers didn't agree with him. But come on; the song itself wasn't too bad, although the music video was pretty damn traumatising in his opinion.  

He didn't really care. He used to, but not anymore. He used to worry about what other people thought of him- of his hair, of his clothes, the way he talked- their judginglike needles in his back, piercing through his barriers each and every time with a deadly pinpoint accuracy. He ignored it, just like he should, cloaked in armour of false confidence and cheap punk band t-shirts. No one really insulted someone who radiated an immunity to that sort of thing.

Not anymore. It was brilliant. 

He was brilliant. 

Two weeks into his job, one month out of university. Life was so much less stressful- less work, more money- but of course, he hadn't told his parents yet. Not that there would have been any point in doing so- they wouldn't exactly care about where he was or what he was doing or if he was still even alive- he'd left them to experience life, and he was pretty sure that they'd never forgive him for it. 

And the best thing was that for the first time in a long time, Brandon had barely even thought about it. Barely even bothered to feel guilty about leaving his parents, leaving their small corner shop and claustrophobically tiny town behind.

The train groaned to the halt and he helped a woman with grey lines streaking through an ash-blonde helmet of hair out of the carriage before stepping out into the rush himself. This was why he loved London, the reliability of it, the way it never changed, despite everything. There was always the penguin-huddles of foreign tourists muttering between themselves like schoolchildren and peering around at the buildings and sights with such a wide-eyed excitement that sometimes Brandon wondered how honest pictures of other world-famous sights really were.

Then there were the businesspeople, pressing their mobiles to their ears as if their entire life depended on them. They clutched their briefcases to their sides like they were the type of disobedient children that ran away from their parents at the first available moment and had to be dragged back with a firm hand and a fierce word.

And who could forget the commuters? The workers weary and aching the very instant they woke up in the morning? The people who staggered out of train carriages like alcoholics or wove between taxis and buses on their bikes like ice-dancers? The people who were almost sick of London, of its smog and acrid stench. The people who were cursing the rows of high-rise apartments and the cacophony of screeching brakes, thunderous horns and crashing voices. 

Brandon loved London.

The gusts of warm air pummelled his face as he was swept down the street in the waves of other people that surrounded him. It was still only early spring- the months that you would find clinging hungrily to the brutality winter yet still reaching out desperately for the summer sun and acid-blue skies. Warm enough to step outside, but cool enough to send you into spasms of shivers and your lips a terrifying blue if you didn't do so without wearing a thick jacket. He kept his hands shoved deep into his hoodie pocket, fingers tapping absent-mindedly against his phone case as he walked, an oscillating beat to the tune of his music and- if he wanted to be poetic- the beat of his heart.

This was the best part of his day. This was when he felt the smallest he ever could, surrounded by other people, nameless faces and identity. He was unrecognizable, undistinguishable. He could wonder whether the person trotting behind him had a stable job or was about to be hurled into the bottomless pit of unemployment . Whether the woman in front of him was having an affair or was working two jobs in order to pay for her three children's extra-curricular clubs.

He kept his earphones in. He enjoyed the calm it provided, the way the lyrics filtered through his ears and blocked out any other thoughts with a metre-thick concrete wall. It was calming, in a way, as if another's thoughts were filling his head, drowning his own opinions and views with someone else's.  He didn't need to think, the thoughts were already there.

Almost as if he was swimming in an ocean of another person's story.   

He was early, just as he always was- catching the 7.35 train from Euston. It was the busiest time of the day for commuters and tourists, platforms transformed into sweating, heaving mosh pits of people imprisoned inside their own self-inflicted prisons, cutting themselves from the rest of the world through earphones, magazines, laptops, books or mobile phones. Humans were meant to be one of the most social creatures on the entire planet. It's ironic, really, considering it really wouldn't seem like that at this time of day. Brandon wasn't due at work in hours; it was just always better to be exceptionally early than late.

There was a small Starbucks around the corner of the station. The building was small, dwarfed between a uniform row of banks like a victim penned inside a ring of school bullies. The bell above the door tinkled airily as Brandon entered, the scent of freshly-ground coffee beans and herbal tea staining the air like spilt ink on paper and twisting around him like mist. He ordered a drink before slumping down into a seat next to the street window, the old leather squeaking against the seat of his jeans.

It was only then that he bothered to remove his earphones, the rich sounds of the city rising in a duet with the dawn pouring through every available crevice and mixing with the long scarlet fingers of the sunrise as the sun finally dragged itself into the sky. One by one, the streetlights were flickering like dying candles before finally falling dark.

"Do you mind if I join you?" a voice said behind his chair, dragging him from his reverie. Brandon jerked back in surprise, as if the voice could burn him, his heart humming like a bird's. He didn't need to look at them to know who they were. He'd met this person once... well, twice before... but no one else had ever set off such a firework show of chemical reactions in his body, someone who could create such a civil war inside of himself- instincts screaming at him to run or fight or scream or worship this person who found him unconscious in a dead-end alley.

He pushed all of those instincts down inside himself and plastered a smile onto his face. "Yeah, 'course... of course not." He gestured to the seat opposite him. "How are you?"

The man who called himself Mr Brewster ignored the question, settling himself into the seat. He sat up ruler straight, the way that your upper-class mother would teach you to sit when in the presence of royalty, and his expression was closed off, any emotions coated in a thick skin of unflinching nonchalance. His hair was as blond as ash, cut short enough to set off his eyes, their colour a staggering contrast the monochrome pallor of the rest of his face. Those eyes were boring into him, stripping off his skin, his flesh and muscle and sinew and bone, until there was nothing left.

It should probably feel far more uncomfortable than it did.

"How are you, Brandon?" he asked smoothly, words dripping between his lips the way blood would from the mouth of a dying man. "Do you feel any... better?" Mr Brewster didn't blink once, eyes never leaving Brandon's. It was agonisingly discomforting.

He tried for a smile anyway. " Yeah. I'm a lot better, thanks."

The blank expression didn't change in the slightest. "That's good."

Silence swept into into the conversation like a swarm of bees. It wasn't awkward- more baleful, as if it was stained a bloody red and as sharp as glass shards. Brandon took a tentative sip of his coffee, the drink still too hot and burning his tongue. "Thanks for the help with the job, though. Seriously- I really appreciate it, and the shop is amazing. Everyone's like, really nice in there, and the jewellery's really cool. Seriously beautiful. I mean, not that I had my eye on anything, or whatever. I mean, I wouldn't steal anything. I'm not that kinda guy, you know? Well, I think that you know, because I'm guessing that you wouldn't hire someone if you thought that they were going to steal the stuff or-"

"Brandon Hope," he snapped, Brandon's name curling over his tongue like it was a taste he couldn't possibly identify. "You're rambling. I'd suggest that you stop talking now." 

The words were so sudden, so blunt, that Brandon did just so, his mouth snapping shut with a surprised finality. 

Mr Brewster continued slowly, leisurely, his voice smooth and soothing, like general anesthesia. "You interest me, Brandon Hope."

Brandon wasn't exactly sure what he should say to that. He forced his mouth to remain closed and waited for him to continue. What else could he have done? His eyes flickered like candles caught in a breeze, colours changing and darkening, assessing him coolly. Or maybe Brandon was just thinking that because he hadn't finished his coffee yet. Mr Brewster  was still talking, his voice low but rattling inside his ears as loudly as if he'd been screaming his voice hoarse. "You are... clever, although I am sure that you yourself don't think so. And you have incredible potential. Untapped potential, actually. And..." a long, slender finger ran delicately around the rim of Brandon's coffee cup. Strangely, he didn't find this as disturbing as he should have done. Mr Brewster  paused, savouring his own words. "Do you believe in God, Brandon Hope? Do you believe in angels?"

Well, that hadn't exactly gone the way he thought it would. There was a television in the corner of the room, just above Mr Brewster's head. On it, a mother and father begged their teenage daughter to return home, even after so many months. He vaguely remembered a picture of her- pretty, pale, white-blonde hair and watery blue eyes. Brandon shrugged cautiously, not removing his eyes from the screen. "I don't really know. I've never really thought about it too much."

He gave a disgruntled half-sigh, as if he wasn't exactly surprised at his answer. And then he stood, the leather seat groaning disapprovingly. "Walk with me, Brandon Hope," he said, and he did, leaving his half-empty coffee cup on the table. It was only when he returned to the street that he realised how warm it had been inside the shop. He shivered and pulled his hoodie tighter. Mr Brewster  was watching him out of the corner of his eye, like he was a stray dog that had been picked up from the street and he didn’t know whether Brandon would either attack or run away as fast as his little legs could carry him.

But instead he trotted along behind him, the perfect little puppy, obedient and adoring, until he realised that he was following Mr Brewster into the very jewellery shop he was employed at. Inside, the room was cool, bright and airy, soft, creamy light filtering through the large windows and trickling over the precious stones and metals like liquid fire, making them shine, making them glow with their own luminescence. The sunlight set them alive, sending them into a writhing, flaming, blinding dance of colours.

The girl on the checkout- what was her name? Lindsey? Lily? - saw him and waved, before her gaze dropped to the man in front of him and she nodded respectively as he passed her by. Despite it still being before eight o’clock, the room was still flecked with customers, flitting from one item to another like hummingbirds, eyes darting indecisively from furious-red to envy-green to fear-blue. The only sound was the discontent hum of traffic worming through the door, at least until the buzz of a mobile shattered the silence. Mr Brewster coughed, fishing his phone from his pocket and answered it, sliding through a door marked 'STAFF ONLY' while Brandon stopped by the counter, giving the girl at the counter a small smile.

​"How are you, Brandon?" she asked, confident fingers plucking at the name badge on her chest. It turned out that her name was Linda. Close enough.  

"Not too bad." He shrugged, fiddling with the hem of his shirt as she turned back to the till, flicking through the pound notes pressed together like criminals in a prison.  "How 'bout you?"

​Linda nodded and threw him a smile. "It's meant to be busy today, with only a few days until Christmas. You know how it is with people, always rushing to get their gifts in the last few minutes." She laughed softly. "Ah, oh well, if I'm lucky then I might get a wage increase. And if you're lucky, you might get a full time job here too, that wouldn't be too bad, would it?"

​Brandon nodded, just as Mr Brewster stepped back into the room, snapping closed his phone and placing it back into his jacket pocket. "Ah, Brandon Hope," he said, stepping forward. Linda moved back behind her till.

Brandon looked back up to him, at the icy cold eyes that almost peel away his skin and tug at his secrets. "Yeah?"

Mr Brewster raised an eyebrow. "Would you consider a week's work trip to Scotland? There is a convention in Glasgow, and I could use assistance in advertising a new brand of jewellery that has been released."

Wow. So, that wasn't something he'd been expecting. He ran a hand threw his hair and glanced down at his shoes, the mud stuck on the toes of his converse, and shrugged. "Can I get back to you tomorrow on it? I'm not completely sure how free I'll be."

Yeah, he'd be totally free. He never really anything on anymore. He smiled to himself. Scotland. Yup; that sounded pretty cool.      

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