It wasn't the first time he'd almost gotten in trouble.
Luke was a free bird strapped with chains around his neck, forcing his feet to stay on the ground and his wings to forestall flight. The pain in his eyes, the sardonic lift of the right tip of his lips, and the way he held on to my hands were signs of a world falling into quicksand. I was too familiar with the canvas of his face and the bruises marred beneath his skin. He thought he hid them well, or maybe he thought he didn't have to hide from me anymore.
I rubbed my eyes, and squinted at the sudden attack of brightness from my phone. I didn't need my glasses to read the text when they were an inch close to my eyes. With a sigh, I drop my head back to my comfortable pillow for a brief moment of breath. My body weighed like concrete, but not even on my deathbed would I ignore a cry of help. Especially from him.
Without another thought against it, I groggily pushed away my enticing comforters and slipped on a grey sweater, to cover up the indecency a thin tank top portrayed. At bloody 2 in the morning, who cared about attractiveness?
Suunnnihhyyy i cnt find my pnts!!! haahagagaha
I wrinkled my nose. If he was in the middle of having sex with a random chick, I was going to punch the music right out of him. The last time that happened, I had a vivid recollection of throwing up inside a humid room that reeked of men's perfume and sweat. Knowing texting would be unhelpful, I dialed his number.
He picked up after five rings. "Sunny!" he giggled, close to a girly cackle. "Where you at?"
"That's what I was going to ask you." I said, locking the door. The jingle of my keys filled the empty silence of the hallway.
"Ohhhhh, riiight!" Luke mumbled, "I'm um, i-in a really happy place. Very cold. Smells good too." From the background, there was a soulful sniff. "Pancakes." Well, at least one of us was in a good mood.
"What's the name of the place, bud?"
"I-I don't know. Wait, I see a sign." He giggled again, "Funny name. Pancake Kingdom. How can a kingdom be made of pancakes? It can't survive. I'll like, eat it all. I'll dominate their kingdom and d-destroy their people."
Drunk Luke Hemmings was a happy, philosophical, dictatorial Luke Hemmings. I fought a smile. Pancake Kingdom was in the same neighborhood as the pub he'd been to a few hours earlier, which made sense on how he got there in one piece. He must have used his canine senses and detected the smell of food. From the years I'd known him, he was the ravenous kind of drunk.
"Okay, Luke. I'm going to be there in a few minutes. Don't hang up on me, kay Bud?" I said, racing down the stairs and calling for a taxi cab once I'd reached the front desk, balancing both phones ear-to-ear. The man from the taxi company sounded on edge from his graveyard shift, I couldn't blame him. Everyone deserved a good shut-eye before facing the real world. "Luke, you still there?" I asked once I'd gotten off the phone with the other party. I hoped my best friend wasn't lying face-down in a random eatery.
"Sunny," he cried out, heaving and out of breath. "They don't have any pudding."
I left the pudding inside the taxi cab as I ventured to find Luke inside Pancake Kingdom. He was right. Once I'd pushed the double doors, the pancake scent hit me like a machete. Today was a luckier day, my eyes spotted a head of dark blonde hair, lying on the top of a booth so it faced the ceiling in an alarming way.
I strolled to his side, nudging him awake. He greeted me with a groan and a hypnagogic loll to the side. I grunted, using all of my upper strength to lift his heavy body up. I could've called one of his guy friends, Callum or Michael, most probably Ashton, but I was delusional and self-reliant. And I didn't know them that well, so calling them would only lead to embarrassment and the unveiling of my social ineptness.
His weight dropped on me like a perpetual anchor on the side, all six feet and four inches of him. The walk back to the cab ran along the lines of heaving and dragging at the same time. I ignored the revolted glare of the driver and focused on not making Luke pummel the pudding I'd hastily bought from the 24/7 cafe on the lowest floor of the apartment building.
The ride back home was familiar. The soft, contented breathing filled the void I'd been trying to ignore before I'd fallen asleep. He did this casually, and I knew better than to worry myself until sleep came. That never stopped me, though. I gave him a hard time about my constant mothering about his self-destructive habits, but we both knew I wouldn't stop. I trusted only myself for his safety, and he agreed wholeheartedly.
His head turned slightly from my shoulder, and his whisper tickled my ear. "Where are we?"
"Home." I said, grasping his cold hand, letting him know I was there, am and always will be. "We're going home."
I could feel his smile from the skin of my shoulder, and he moved his head to fall on my right leg. "Wake me up when we get there."
The window fogged with the influx of a misty morning, and I traced the damp glass with my forefinger. The stone dark-red of the classical old building of the Hillsburn Villa greeted us with their white fluorescent sign and medieval lampposts. I shook his shoulder again, and this time he awakened.
After paying the cab, I helped him to the elevator, trying to ignore the ever strong smell of gin and tonic in his flannel pocket shirt. To be in such close proximity for a long period of time made me dizzy, sort of like second-hand drunkenness.
Luke babbled on about a comical encounter about almost being caught by the father of a woman he'd been in the middle of bedding, his feet losing balance every so often as I worked on the lock of my door. He was too drunk to take care of himself, as he was most nights.
His apartment was too far away, and we've grown accustomed to his presence in my place whenever he'd gotten high or drunk. He should've thought about going on theatre, playing a rising, devil-may-care musician when the sun came up and a nocturnal sunken sot once the moon lit the nightsky. Sometimes, I wondered why he always called me in his vulnerable moments and not his band mates, but I treasured him too much to open that window.
The heavy drinks seemed to take a toll on him as he collapsed on my chaotic bed, his eyes shutting before they met the pillows. I covered his unconscious body with my blanket, and waited for the snores to come before I took a stray pillow and headed to my sofa. I turned the lamp off, and closed my eyes.
Luke held the cup to my face, and I raised an eyebrow at his sheepish expression.
"That's for taking care of me again last night." He smiled, a dimple appearing on his cheek. The plastic cup looked temptingly like the cheesecake frappe I'd been craving since I woke up. "You missed breakfast to get to work because of me, so here's my take on an apology." On his other hand was a brown paper bag, and when I peered in, I couldn't help but smile.
Chocolate croissant. My one weakness, besides frappe and Jensen Ackles. "Your thanks and apologies are accepted and deserved." I said, giving him a hungry look and wiggling my hands, "Gimme."
He laughed, eyes crinkling in amusement as I dug into them greedily. "Nice timing by the way." I told him.
Luke shrugged, "My timing is always impeccable."
A snort made me almost choke on my pastry. "Yes, because 2AM drunk off your ass is labeled impeccable timing." The sheepish look returned. "You do know that it's unhealthy right?"
"You mauling that piece of bread? Pretty sure. Hey!" he dodged my shoulder-punch. "I'm still hung-over, give me a break."
"I will when you get your head out of my ass." I told him, lowering the pastry as the tone took a turn for serious. I really was worried about him and his secret downward spiral. It made my croissant look less appealing, especially with the image of him spread on an empty street with an empty bottle in his hand.
"Trust me, if my head were in there, I'd never leave." He didn't dodge my punch, and he yelped at the contact. I was a great puncher. "Dude!"
"Luke," I said earnestly. "I can't stand looking at you destroying yourself."
"It's doing its job." he argued back, defensively crossing his arms. There was no anger when he said it, but just a hint of frustration and the eagerness to drop it.
I raised an incredulous eyebrow. "What, giving you a hell-load of pain?"
"No, numbing a hell-load of pain." He snapped, and I clamped my mouth shut, unable to reply. "It helps me out in ways you don't understand, Sunny. I mean, it's like my version of a cheesecake frappe on a bad day. Only, drunk me does stupid things that sober me would be too afraid to do."
He kept his light tone, like it never bothered him that the route he was going to might lead to something terrible. He acted like he was doing alright, when he wasn't. The hours I'd spent with him involved him drinking, hungover, high, or in a pissy fit. Come to think of it, "What do the boys think about this?" The more i'd witnessed Luke drunk or tipsy, the less I'd seen his friends at all. Shame, I liked them.
"Fuck them and what they think." He rasped out, irate at the constant prodding of subject. He didn't acknowledge the hurt on my face, and turned to leave. "Sorry Sunny, but I have to go. Thanks for taking care of me again, I really appreciate it."
"Where are you heading to?" I asked, even though I had an inkling from the way he grinned mischievously. Sometimes, I wished my delusions would embrace reality and come to life. I shook my head, and he ignored my disapproving glare. "Dammit, Luke. Another party?"
"I'm just too popular." he laughed lazily, "Trust to see you later again tonight, yeah?"
I wanted to say no. I didn't want to rescue him anymore. I didn't want to be at his beck and call. I didn't like feeling used. But this was Luke. We had something along the lines of great friendship since we were kids. Even if we'd drifted apart between his music gigs and my internship in an advertising company, we'd look out after each other. He used to bandage my knees with hello-kitty band-aids and defend me from mean girls. It was my turn to help him, even if I couldn't change him, I had to stay for him. So the cycle went on.
He, leading a life keen on self-destruction.
I, wishing I knew how to save him.
"What were you doing on the ground?" I asked, a few weeks later. He'd called me up again. This time, he was lying limp on the pavement--a recurring nightmare of mine come to life, near a bookshop. He had been filthy, and damp with sweat. Luckily, he'd left some of his clothes in my closet whenever his road turned this way. Seeing as he was intoxicated to the point of no return, I had to put on my big girl pants and help him change. He had the decency to pull up his own sweatpants after I threatened to cut of his manly bits.
I pulled his shirt down, his head filling the hole, his hair mussed and his grin cheeky. "Lookin' at the shtars and thinkinbout how pretty you are," he slurred. "I-I dun feel so good."
"You puked twice, already. I think you've gotten enough out of you. " I covering his body with my comforters. He puckered his lips and started making kissing noises. I snorted, "You're really out of it, aren't you?" His pupils were dilated, unfocused, even if they were glistening with drunken thrill.
Luke snuggled on my pillow contentedly, closing his eyes. Sensing the long-familiar sequence, and recognizing the slow resumption of his breathing, I leaned forward to his angelic face, so untroubled and calm when he was asleep, and kissed him on the corner of his cheek.
"Good night, Luke." I told him, a small smile on my face.
He mumbled incoherently, something about ducks and magic, and then a whispered, "I love you." I stilled only for a moment before thinking nothing of it. He said this some nights, lost in his drunken wonderland. I've learned not to read into his affection, knowing I'd just drown in an ocean of overthinking and feelings. It was easier to ignore feelings than to act on them. Anyway, he loved me as a friend, most likely. Or perhaps, he was talking to Selena Gomez underneath his eyelids.
"Yeah, I love you too." I said, before moving to get up.
"You dun understand..." he blurted out, "I really fucking love you, Sunny. I'm lit'rlly a pile of shit without you," Luke stumbled over his words, but he eyed me with sincerity. "The guys--they jus' don't understand me anymore. Only you, Sun, only you."
"That's what friends are for, bud."
"Someday you're gonna meet someone perfect for you, and it'll kill me because you're goin' to leave me. I don't know what I am without you, Sunny. I can't stand the thought of you not being here beside me. I should be a good friend and be happy, but I can't stand it. You deserve a better friend, anyone better than my corrupt soul. Clean, pure."
I did. I did deserve someone good for me. Luke was toxic, but he was my friend. The last thing on my mind was dumping his ass when he needed me the most. I've thought of leaving, even though I knew I shouldn't. Those moments always ended abruptly. I couldn't bear the thought of leaving him alone.
"You're my best friend, Luke. That won't change." I promised him, my voice soft.
"I don't want to lose it, Sunny." he rambled on, and the beginnings of tears started to build up on the edge of his eyes. "You just have something in you that I don't want to lose, because I know I'll never find it anywhere else."
My chest ached with the weight of his pain. "You can do the shittiest of things, and you'll never lose me. That's the point."
"Please don't leave me tonight, I love you so much. I love you more than I can even comprehend." He admitted, and I could barely hear him from the sudden thudding of my heart. I tried not to let his confession mess with my head. He was going to forget this in the morning. Tonight might have turned different, but they always ended the same. I wondered if things would change in the morning, and I wondered if I wanted them to change. "Don't ever leave me, okay?"
I pursed my lips and shook my head, "Never." And for the first time in years, I got under the covers with him. Because I loved him too. I love him as a friend, and the barriers beyond platonic affection. In his darkest nights, or in his brightest mornings, I will love him enough to stay.