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.


15. Epilogue




the wake or trail left in the sky or on the water by a plane or boat;

the scent that lingers in the air after someone or something has gone



Stage One – Denial

The world was silent. Or maybe he'd just managed to submerge himself in such a thick blanket of emptiness that he'd managed to block out the pitiful looks that were handed to him on a silver platter, gift-wrapped in apologies and comfort that he didn't want nor need. 

He didn't need anything. He didn't need anyone.

He didn't need anyone else, anyway, because the one person he did need was going to walk through his front any moment now. 

He knew it.   

Things like this… these were the cliff-hangers for the end of a TV show, the promise of a next season. These were the things that happened at the end of John Green novel, the type of thing that left readers sobbing for hours after finishing it before rushing off to watch the film. These were the things Sam read about in newspapers, spending a minute or so thinking ‘how awful’ and ‘I’m so glad it’s not me’.

These were the things that didn’t happen to people like him.

They didn’t happen when everything was so close to perfection, when the world, that had for so long been imprisoned in an unending spectrum of black and white, suddenly shattered into a billion different fragments of blinding colour. They didn’t happen when Sam finally- FINALLY- had everything he’d ever wanted and was so, so close to the happily ever after that he’d always dreamed of.

That didn’t happen.

That didn’t happen, and therefore it couldn’t happen.

And therefore it didn’t happen.

Sam knew that Brandon was going to walk through his front door at any moment, wearing a cocky smirk and an overlarge band t-shirt. His hair would be messy and his fringe would hang low over his eyes like an ebony canopy and his hands would be shoved deep into his jeans pockets.

“Yo,” he’d say, before slumping down onto the sofa next to him. Then they’d spend all evening watching a movie and talk about how Sam’s surgeon training was going, how Brandon was planning on returning to university.

That was how it was going to happen. That was how it would always happen. All he needed to do was wait.


Stage Two – Anger

When Cat arrived home from work late one evening, she found her entire apartment in turmoil, her cutlery and cooking utensils scattered over the floor like debris after the London Blitz, her chair and bedding torn apart, stuffing leaking from the ripped material like blood from a fatal wound. Her walls were plastered in graffiti paint, ruby-red and still wet, scarlet teardrops dribbling down the walls and pooling onto her carpet.

Sam heard her scream from the street corner, winding through the open window and staining the cool night air like blood. He smiled, the white flash of his teeth flashing like a moonlight glint on ivory fangs.

Stupid bitch.

He pulled up his jacket collar against the biting wind, glaring at the cracks in the pavement as he walked. It was December again, the clouds ash-grey and trembling with the effort of containing such a monumental amount of snow within them. His phone began to buzz, quietly at first, then louder, more insistently, until, with a monumental sigh, he pulled it out of his pocket and answered the call.

“What do you want?”

“Why did you do that, Sam?” The voice on the other end of the phone was breaking, fissures spreading through it like a cracked lake, balancing precariously on the brink of shattering.

His smile grew, the corners of his mouth lifting and twisting into a snarl. “Why not? You’re acting like you don’t deserve it. You deserve so much worse than a damaged apartment.”

Cat’s voice did break, collapsing into razor-sharp splinters. He would have almost felt sorry for her if he didn’t despise her so much. “I-I’m sorry,” she screamed. “I said that I’m SORRY. What else do you want from me?”

“What I want,” a month ago, Sam would never have believed that he could have ever said anything as cruel as the words that insisted on pouring out of his mouth, inky black, as dark as oil and cruel and merciless as arsenic. “Is your head on your plate, but then I would be betraying my Hippocratic Oath, and so I’m not going to do that. I just want you to know how much I hate you for what you did. How you betrayed him, how you sentenced him to… to death.”

“You would have died too. What else could I have done?”

“And I would rather that I had done so. You had no right to make that decision for me. And for that I hate you. So goodbye, Catherine.”


Stage Three – Bargaining

“Brandon,” Sam whispered, his voice softened to a whisper, a prayer to whatever omniscient being would listen. "Please... I need you... please, come back to me..."

The world was quiet, the outside darkness seeping into the room through the gap in the curtains like ink. The apartment still smelt new, even after all this time, and as he spoke his voice reverberated against the bare walls, bouncing against them like the squash ball. Bouncing back and forth and back and forth...

"Please don't leave me alone," he continued. "I've been trying to keep moving, I-I'm trying so hard... but I can't. I don't know what to do any more. I've moved out and gone back to the hospital, but…”

The oxygen rattled inside his lungs, clattering around like a bag of marbles.

Breathe in… Breathe out… Repeat… 

He’d moved into a new apartment on the other side of London. He’d returned back to his surgeon training. He’d done everything he could have done to move on. But he couldn’t.

“Please, Brandon…” his words were ragged. “I’ll do anything. Come back to me. I need you. Please.” The desperation began to build, twisting like hunger in the pit of his stomach and he started to scream, a wild, animal scream that burst out of him with serrated claws and bloody fangs. “Don’t leave me here! Come back to me! I need you! I NEED YOU!”

There was no answer, just like he knew there wouldn’t be and he started to cry, sliding down onto the floor and curling into a ball, the floor icy against the seat of his trousers.

He screamed until he couldn’t scream anymore, his throat hoarse and his empty lungs burning, and then he screamed silently, lungs empty of any air, because whatever he tried to do, whatever he tried to think, he couldn’t stop screaming, couldn’t stop the ocean of desperation which consumed him… drowned her… a slow-working acid… a delayed poison… killing him slowly… slowly… slowly…


Stage Four – Depression

He didn’t move.

He didn’t drink.

He didn’t eat.

There was no point. No point at all.

He took the Tube to the hospital every morning, following the senior surgeon with a doglike obedience. He made small talk with his colleagues before taking the Tube back to his apartment again. He made dinner, played with it with his fork before throwing it away again. Then he went to bed, slept for a few hours before being torn out of it by nightmares… images of Brandon lying on his kitchen floor, the pool of blood seeping between the tiles and like a slow-moving river dragging itself slowly down the riverbank. Before him, before this, Sam had been something. Now he was just a shell. A corpse. A walking, breathing, eating corpse.

And he’d seen corpses now, many, many corpses, so he knew exactly what he was talking about.

Before he went to sleep, he spent hours staring at the blank space of the ceiling, alone, imprisoned with his thoughts. He used to enjoy the quiet- the calm that it brought with it, the way it allowed him to concentrate, the empty colours that cloaked him like armour. The silence meant that no one was near him. The silence ensured that there were no more pitiful looks, no more carefully planned words, phrases that were painstakingly organised to cause him the least pain.

But the agony was always there, a glass shard in his side; his memories twisted it deeper into his flesh, feeling the blood trickle through his clothes like spilt ink staining through paper.

He didn’t care.


Stage Five – Acceptance

The grave was a simply-shaped slab of granite with writing gouged into it, highlighted in gold  paint. In a way, it almost reminded him of the Ten Commandments that Moses painstakingly carved into the tablets. The most important how-to guide in existence.

The flowers next to it were neatly arranged, fresh. Sam almost laughed. Brandon would have hated it. He had hay fever.

The polished stone seemed to shine in the sunlight, as if there was light inside of it, worming through the cold granite and forcing its way out into the spring air.

​It was ridiculous, unfair, that Michael Brewster was rotting in prison, while Brandon was rotting in the ground. It was cruel that people had only come forward once Brandon was long dead. Living was a constant battle- shuffling through every day as they approached, but he was getting there. He'd get there eventually.  

Sam smiled softly, and it felt strange, smiling for the first time since forever. He let out a long breath, feeling the oxygen whistle out of his lungs into the warm air, soft and silver, the promise of life drifting between his lips. Brandon would say something philosophical instead, asking whether living was simply a hallucination caused by an inhalation of oxygen, and whether that was the reason that people blacked out once you stopped breathing.

“See ya,” he said, and turned his back and walked away. 

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