a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something they both desire but which neither wants to begin.
Here comes the rain again
Falling from the stars
Drenched in my pain again
Becoming who we are
As my memory rests
But never forgets what I lost
Wake me up when September ends
Summer has come and passed
The innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends
Brandon was gone.
Had been for a long time, really.
Back at the club, back when he met Michael, that had been the start. The beginning of the end. Sam couldn't really believe that that had been almost a year ago. So much had changed in the fragile space of eleven months.
It was almost mind-blowing.
Brandon had quit university, disappeared and then reappeared again. Body intact but soul in shatters, the humanity in him beaten until it had retreated into the furthest, deepest, darkest corner of himself as he obeyed the orders he was given- hurting and killing and ripping apart people and families with almost a careless abandon. He’d give him the names, late one night, when the dark seemed to roar like a starving beast around the apartment. It had been an extensive list, more than even Brandon had really known- his disgusted expression had morphed into surprise as the laundry list of dead names and identities rattled off his tongue, and then that surprise had transformed into horror as the names continued to tumble onto the paper.
Each of them had died hideously- the murder obviously having taken sheer pleasure in ending their lives- and each of them had been connection to a certain Michael Brewster.
Who, coincidentally enough, had told Sam only the night before that if he didn’t kick Brandon out then he’d have them both killed, put down like unwanted dogs. Which was great. Simply fantastic.
But of course, he wasn’t going to leave him. He’d never forgive himself for it. It wasn’t in him to abandon Brandon anyway.
There was a slight scuffle as Brandon shuffled into the kitchen, bed hair sticking up in spikes like an electrocuted hedgehog. Sam couldn’t help but grin slightly as Brandon made his way over to the toaster and pushed a couple of slices of bread into it. “You’re looking happy,” Brandon noted as he plodded past him on his way to the coffee machine.
Lately, Brandon had been making a startling recovery. Despite still eating the same food for dinner every evening he could now cook it by himself, and the other day Sam hadn’t even been watching him as he did so. He often took breaks from his once rigorous timetable- sometimes he’d spend the day slouched on the sofa watching television (provided that the program didn’t feature anything particularly violent) or drawing- scratching hapless scribbles onto whatever scrap paper he could find laying around. Despite Brandon’s obvious lack of talent, he still couldn’t help enjoy those hours they spent slouching about. They were far more enjoyable, far more relaxed, than the days that Brandon had spent locked inside Sam’s bedroom staring at the opposite wall, trapped inside the torture chamber of his own mind’s workings.
Sometimes, if Sam was lucky, Brandon would slide down next to him on the sofa, wordlessly, as if he always belonged there, and Sam couldn’t help but question if he did. He couldn’t help but acknowledge that he’d undeniably like it if he did.
“I’m not too bad,” he replied, and to top that off he couldn’t help but smile again.
Brandon frowned, the cold light catching his eyes and set them alight- a constant fluctuation between green and blue and grey, brilliantly warm and shining. “What is it?”
Sam shook his head and turned back to his coffee. “It’s just good to see you smiling. You look happy. That’s not exactly a bad thing.”
Brandon continued to stare at him warily as the coffee machine hummed, filling the room with warm, comforting noise and breakfast smells, before picking up an apple from the fruit bowl and taking a bite. Huh, so Brandon was even changing around his breakfast foods. He must be doing well.
He’d texted Cat with a basic update on how Brandon was doing, just as he did at the end of every week. He’d convinced himself that it was for her own ease of mind, to show that everything really was going to get better, but it had been with a startling, broken conviction that he’d realised that it had also been for him to connect the dots, to track the improvements and relapses like a heartbeat- trekking up before plummeting down again, up then down, up and then down.
He’d texted her again with a this morning, the instant he’d managed to drag him scattered thoughts together before fixing them back together like a jagged jigsaw puzzle, before realising that he had a death note taped to his forehead. A clear-cut warning: let Brandon die or you will die with him.
Cat hadn’t replied yet, but her warning the night he’d last seen her- the night she’d abandoned Brandon for good- still froze his heart: ‘I know, Sam. I’m not stupid, and I know that Brandon’s not so much a friend to you.’
He’d tried to ignore it, of course he had, but she may as well have impaled him on an icicle, the frozen water licking at his heart with icy flames.
“Listen,” he said slowly. “I want to… um, thank you… for everything you’ve done.” Sam had seen the many faces of Brandon Hope, and this was the one that he’d seen more than most of the others- the one when he was trying to drown out his nervousness in a shroud of confidence, a thick mist of determined self-assuredity. Sam saw straight through it, but he still wasn’t too sure where Brandon was leading this particular conversation.
“It’s cool,” he shrugged, but he didn’t take his eyes from Brandon’s. “But something happened last night, I got a-“
“No!” Brandon’s voice cut through his thoughts like a razor blade- any initial suggestion of warning Brandon cut free as he made his way over to Sam, Brandon’s hands wrapping over his and removing the coffee cup from his grip. His face was flushed a pure, burning red. “I-I didn’t mean to snap. I’m… sorry. I just- I really, really appreciate it. A lot.”
Sam could hear his own heartbeat in his ears. It was thundering, the blood bounding into the end of each finger, his hands trembling.
“I mean…” Brandon continued, staring down at a curious mark on the floor. “Through everything, even before all of, well, this, you were always there. Always. And- and even when I was the most messed up I could have ever been, you were still there. You were like this… this beacon of white light amongst the red, and I just focused on it the entire time, because I knew that if I did then you’d be at the end of it.”
Brandon’s next breath was ragged, the air tearing at his throat and between his lips. The atmosphere between then was thick, and light, as if the autumn morning light was setting worming inside them both, making their skin glow. The air around them fluctuated- swelling and flexing between them like a pulse. It was only then that he met Sam’s eyes, and Sam saw that he was close to tears- crystal water threatening to spill down his face. “It took last night to finally realise that, you know, but I did. And I just wanted to… needed to… thank you.”
And that was when Sam kissed him.
He hadn’t loved Brandon at first. They’d met over the internet, when Sam was been nineteen and Brandon had been fifteen. He’d been bored and at the first and last party he’d ever been to, where he was dared to start talking to a total stranger on Skype. It had been a joke at first, but then he’d called back later that night, and then the night after and then the night after that until he realised that he didn’t really want to stop.
He hadn’t realised that he loved Brandon when their late night conversations had transpired into all-day texting; stupid, casual little things like ‘what film are you watching?’ or ‘have you seen the Death Note anime yet? It’s amazing. You’ll love it.’
He realised that he loved Brandon the first time he called him in the middle of the night, when another nightmare had him choking himself on his own duvet covers. Brandon hadn’t laughed at him or mocked him; instead he listened and then he spoke, his voice worming down the line like a lullaby, and he talked to Sam until he’d fallen back to sleep.
Sam knew that he loved Brandon the very, very first time that he met him in person, a whole year and a half later, when the rain had drowned away the dirt from the pavements and the few clouds that were left glowed with a newly-laundered shine. He knew that he loved him when he ran up to Brandon at the train station and whispered “I can’t believe that you’re real”, inhaling the soft scent of deodorant and cinnamon that clung to his overly-large My Chemical Romance t-shirt. He had been so beautiful, so real, that Sam had almost wanted to scream.
He first wished that Brandon wished that he loved him back when they danced in the snowstorm in Brandon’s parents’ back garden, carpeting the ground until they were both almost submerged in pure white. They made snow angels and threw snowballs at each other, but it was only when they collapses, giggling, into the snow like children, catching flakes on their tongues, that Sam noticed how close they were together. Brandon’s nose was stained red from the cold and with his hair reflected the night sky- a raven ebony dotted with brilliant white stars. If they could only have stayed there forever Sam could finally count all those freckles.
He first wondered whether Brandon loved him back when he received a call at eleven at night, Green Day streaming through the speakers. “You realise that I love you, right?” Brandon had yelled over the music as Sam winced and held the phone away from his ear. There’d been hope for an instant- the briefest tingling of butterfly wings fluttering away in his stomach- but he crushed beneath logic and reality and tried to ensure that his voice didn’t crack.
“Are you drunk, Brandon? Do you need a lift home?”
“That’s not how you’re meant to answer it.” Brandon had muttered before he’d hung up, only calling back the next morning to apologise for causing any problems.
“It’s cool,” Sam had answered, a plastic smile plastered onto his face with a dubious amount of paint and superglue, but a little voice inside of him whispered: ‘what if?’
And now, when he realised that Brandon wasn’t pushing him away in disgust or reeling away before punching him in the face, Sam knew.
One of Brandon’s hands was wrapped around his neck, keeping him in place. His other hand was ghosting over his left arm, each touch light and brief and delicate, ghosting over his skin, barely even there but leaving a burning trail of goose-bumps and fire in its wake.
They were so close that he could feel Brandon’s heartbeat against his own chest. It was racing, quivering, like a bird’s. It wasn’t that whole ‘I-saw-fireworks’ crap that the script-writers vomited out over the audiences in the movie theatres; it was like he was on fire, as if flames were racing through his veins and making his head spin.
He finally pulled back, the sudden blast of oxygen into his lungs almost making him fall off of his chair. Brandon was scarlet, the blush curling over his cheeks and around his ears and down his neck beneath his hair. He looked confused- not as if he was actually confused, but more as if he was in the middle of solving a maths equation and retelling a vaguely unoriginal joke at the same time and had no idea on what expression to settle for. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, but he didn’t sound very sorry at all. “I wasn’t planning on actually-”
Sam was about to kiss that stupid expression right from his face when his phone rang. “Sam?” Cat snapped down the line the instant he picked up up. “We need to talk. Like, right now.”
“What are you on about?”
“No time to explain. I need to talk to you in person. I’m in that small coffee shop next to the Chinese takeaway. And don’t bring Brandon.”
“Wait, Cat, what do you mean?”
He sighed as she hung up. Sam was already dressed, so he took a final swig of coffee before grabbing his coat.
“Where are you off to now?” Brandon’s voice was teasing but Sam felt like ice water had been thrown down his neck. How could he leave Brandon alone? It was a twenty minute walk to the café, but a lot could happen in such a short space of time. How could he leave Brandon alone knowing that there was a price on his head? Sam had already considered handing Brandon over to the police, but how could he explain why he needed protection without bringing up that Brandon was a murderer, and the man after him was the one who had convinced him to do as he was ordered? And would they really believe him, a university graduate with a degree in doctoring, who had taken a year’s leave from training to be a surgeon, over a millionaire, a man with a spotless record and who had donated half a million pounds to a children’s charity this year alone? For some odd reason, Sam figured that they wouldn’t, and even if they did bother to carry out an investigation, Brandon would still be arrested, his life would still be nothing but shattered fragments of what could have been.
He sighed. “I’ve got to go and meet Cat. She said it was important, but you can’t come.”
Brandon sighed resignedly. “I figured that bit. So you’ll be an hour or so, right?”
He needed to warn him. That much was painfully obvious. “Brandon, I hate to say this, but you’re in danger. Someone called me last night saying-”
“That if you didn’t throw me out then we’d both be killed?” Brandon supplied, pulling his phone from his pocket. “I got that message too. That was how I found it in the first place, and that was actually why I was already awake.” He shrugged. “I figured that’s why you looked so serious this morning. You should still go, though. I’ll be fine.”
“Listen to me,” Brandon grinned, placing his hands on Sam’s shoulders and leaning in close. Sam almost hated how his heart was racing in that moment. “I promise, I promise, that I won’t go and die in a fantastically dramatic flaming blaze of glory while you abandon my hot piece of ass for a few hours, okay? I can still look after myself. So go.”
Brandon gave Sam a little nudge towards the door and he complied, blowing Brandon a sarcastic little kiss as he made his way out. He couldn’t help but smile at Brandon’s laugh. Things were going well. Things were going very, very well indeed.
Sam was still grinning as he pushed open the door to the shop, warm air crashing into him like a wall, the scent of freshly-crushed coffee beans tagging after it obediently. It took him a moment or so to recognise Cat- scouring the faces and tables for a glint of golden hair. She was there already, her hat pulled low over her hair. He couldn’t see her face behind the canopy of hair that hung in front of it, some of the strands dragging lazily in the hot chocolate she had in front of her. Her drink looked stone-cold.
“Cat?” he murmured and she spun round to face him. Her eyes were red and swollen, black stripes leaking down from the corners of her eyes like ebony tears. Her hair was matted, unbrushed, her lips were hideously chapped, a layer of crusty blood coating on corner of her mouth like morose lipstick. Sam felt like he’d been pushed underneath the surface of a lake in mid-winter, the ice closing over his head with a deathly finality as he choked, his windpipe tightening, his limbs freezing as he sank into the blackness. No…
“I’m so sorry, Sam.” Cat whispered, her voice as cracked as her composure, as new tears spilled down her cheeks. Her voice was torn, ragged, as if it was a conscious effort to drag the air up from her lungs and to mold it, twist it into words. She bit her lip again, fresh blood welling beneath the startling white tooth. “But I had to… the man, he said he’d hurt you too... you don’t deserve that… I’m so sorry, Sam, but I had to…”
No no no no.
“It’s too late,” she continued, burying her face in her delicate hands. “It will have… I agreed to…”