'The adrenaline lets me feel what I feel and what I feel alone- no denial or fear or confusion to tangle the truth up.'
Chapter Twenty Five
I don’t know how long I stand there after Gerard’s departure, in the bitter December rain that lashes down the grotty, grey yard and slashes my scarred skin like denied knives, their cold blades taunting me. All I know is that I remain there, winter pouring down on me, through me, until the echo of his parting words has evaporated up into the dusty December rain and I’m completely alone, with nothing but the greasy orange tint of the school floodlights reflected off the slick ground to stare emptily back at me.
For someone I used to hate- or someone I still do- Gerard’s flawless façade and brokenly beautiful glimmers occupy an alarming amount of my thoughts. No matter how hard I try and tie them down or block them off, they’re still there, the knots unravelling until the thoughts are consuming my mind of puckered skin and not letting me look away.
It’s last period History and I’m slumped at the back of the rowdy classroom, immune to the grating noise clattering around me, eyes dimmed with half-shredded memories as I stare dolefully out through the grimy window beside me at the falling icicles, heart in a knot, soul not sure where to go.
Since our encounter in the rain this morning, I haven’t been able to rid my thoughts of my enigmatic stepbrother from even a second of my thoughts. Consequently, I’ve spent the rest of the day alone, thoughts lost in a dark whirlpool with too many white horses, as I try and figure him out- figure myself out, and what this empty space is that’s been carved somewhere behind my ribs and tugs so painfully whenever I draw a breath of lonely air. I need to figure it out, find the biggest piece of the jigsaw and understand.
But I can’t. It’s all a mush of unlabelled, uncharted things that scare me and make me want to outrun myself.
So instead of being brave enough to look at them, I just close my eyes and let everything that won’t leave me alone overwhelm me- the things I can’t stop feeling, can’t stop seeing; the dark red blood streaked down his face; the pain riddled like hacked-about barbed wire through his eyes as he read the scripture of scars carved into my flesh; the way his eyes flashed as he snatched the drawing from my raw, red fingertips; the way the paper melted into the gutter, as though the grey icicles of December rain were fire not water; and the way he looked at me with the glimmer of someone who cares far too much rather than not at all.
And I can’t stop hearing his parting words that shatter his faceless illusion so brutally. I care a lot more than you think.
Even just remembering those words sends shivers of impact all down my spine. Those eight words set the memory alight; alive, allowing me to remember it so vividly that the viciously cold rain is running down my skin again and Gerard’s fiercely nimble fingertips are gripping the sides of my face, haunted warmth emanating from their touch and-
“Oi, Freak. I’m talking to you.” The snide hiss of the kid in the seat behind me- who’s been pelting my back with spitballs for the whole lesson- slices my thoughts away from me, making me jump and blush and duck behind my hair.
The kid pokes me in the back with his ruler, but instead of being choked with my usual angry prickles of humiliation, I find I really just can’t be bothered caring. Having spitballs aimed at my turned back along with the occasional spiteful comment, is really the least of my worries at the moment. After all, what’s that compared to the raven-haired, mask-like boy who refuses to be eclipsed from my thoughts? Or compared to the fact the raven-haired, mask-like boy refuses to be eclipsed from my thoughts? Or that raw, tugging feeling that won’t leave me alone?
Compared to all those, spitballs are about as significant as me.
Wearily, I just lay my head defeatedly on my arms and stare out at the falling rain, letting Mr. Arnold’s droning voice wash over me as spitballs shower my hunched back. I let out a small, shuddery sigh that’s laden with too much to think, but as always, it goes unheard. There’s nothing I can do but sit here, a husk of someone I used to be, and wait for the thoughts churning inside to finally destroy the husk holding my remaining fragments together too.
Dreamlessly, I spend the rest of the lesson staring out at the stormy December world beyond the greasy glass and artificial, flickery light of the classroom, watching dusk begin to curl vulnerably down from the charcoal clouds to the dusty rain and listening to the almost soothing drone of Mr. Arnold’s voice as he reads out a wartime poem to an uncaring class.
As I listen to blood-soaked metaphor about gargling souls choking on their own pulses, watching darkening rain dribble down the window in silent empathy, I let out a defeated sigh and wonder if there’s anywhere in the world that pain doesn’t exist.
The kid behind me stabs me with the point of his biro, kindly reminding me that no, there isn’t.
The second the bell signalling the end of the school day drills tactlessly through the final verse of the wartime poem, there’s an instant scrabble for chairs and bags and there’s a scuffle of fumbling feet as everyone shoves their way towards the door. In seconds, the classroom is empty apart from me and Mr. Arnolds as I wearily pack up my unused history jotter and hitch my schoolbag onto my back with a heavy sigh. Unlike the rest of my peers, I have nowhere I want to be, no where better to go.
“A-Alright, Frank?” Mr. Arnolds stammers, peering anxiously at me through his round glasses lenses, as if he thinks I’ve hung back from the rest of the class to set his classroom on fire or stab him.
I nod silently, hoping to god I never have to become a teacher. I duck my head automatically, avoiding eye contact and making sure my hair is covering my face as I make my way towards the door, no real desire to return home, but not really wanting to stay at school either. Mr. Arnolds flinches as I approach the front of the room, looking terrified, and I pause, opening my mouth on impulse, feeling a pang of simplistic sympathy through the turmoil of tangled up other emotions.
“I-I liked the poem you were reading, Sir,” I offer tentatively, hesitating by the door and looking back at him.
Mr. Arnolds blinks in disbelief and gawps as if I’ve announced I’m growing a second head on my ass. “…Is this some kind of joke?” He snaps suddenly, looking annoyed and shuffling the papers on his desk briskly to cover up for his lapse.
I shake my head and attempt something along the lines of a smile before trailing reluctantly from the classroom and into the sawmill of adolescence thundering through the halls, and I swear, out of the corner of my eye, I see him return it.
The second I step into the corridor, I’m swallowed up by the teeming sea of students, the tide of their rabble buffeting me carelessly from one side to the other. Everyone’s laughing and chattering with each other, messing about with their friends, talking excitably about what they’re going to do after school, and I suddenly feel horribly, agonisingly alone.
Some people think it’s strange to feel most alone in a place crowded with people- but I think it makes perfect sense, because it makes you feel as though you’re the only one without somebody. I feel like that person now, and suddenly I miss Mikey’s shy, tentative presence and stuttering conversations like never before, and suddenly realise that I don’t actually have to be alone.
If I am, it’s my own fault, because there are people- only two people, granted, but people all the same- who try and get close to me, help me, but I never let them. And maybe I should. Maybe I need them. There’s only so long you can kid yourself you can walk the world alone.
Suddenly, something in my thoughts clicks into place, and, mind made up more determinedly than ever before, I turn against the tide of students pushing and shoving their way towards the exit, pushing the opposite way. Instead of heading for the main exit or the cloakrooms, I make straight for the English corridor, knowing from my brief, mumbled conversation with him at breakfast this morning, that Mikey has English last period today.
Despite the fact it’s only mere minutes since the bell rang, when I reach it, the English corridor is almost completely deserted. My Converse squeak uncomfortably loudly along the waxy floors in the silence, practically shouting out my lonely path to anyone cruel enough to listen.
I reach Mikey’s English class unscathed, but when I poke my head round the doorframe, the classroom is empty of a skinny, nervously mousy-haired boy. My heart sinks in disappointment and I sigh in defeat, looking down at my feet and raking a hand through my hair.
“Frank,” A familiar voice says tonelessly in stony greeting, making me jump and look up to see Eric coming out of the classroom, a stack of exam preparation books under his arm. His expression is hostile and wary, and I remember Mikey wasn’t the only one I was rude to earlier. I bite my lip as more guilt washes over me, adorning my wounds in heavy, leaded regrets.
I open my mouth in attempt to erase my mistakes, but before I can ever utter a single syllable, Eric is stalking past, looking affronted. Instinctively, I grab hold of his arm and pull him back, preventing him from leaving.
Instantly, Eric lets out a loud yell and drops all his books with a loud clatter to the polished floors, the sound resounding embarrassingly through the deserted corridor.
“Please don’t hurt me!” Eric yelps, eyes wide and scared, and I instantly drop his arm in horror, feeling utterly terrible. Am I really that bad tempered that one of the few people I talk to and like thinks I’m going to attack them?
Something black and bitter and congealed slides sickeningly into the pit of my stomach, like shrivelled tar of a poisoned soul. I know I have to fix this.
“I didn’t mean to upset you earlier!” Eric says frantically, eyes darting nervously around as if he’s debating making a run for it. Cheeks burning, I duck down and start picking up all the spilt text books, fingers trembling slightly with hurt humiliation and horrified realisation.
“Eric, please hear me out,” I mumble from under my hair, scooping the books into a slightly untidy pile and hoping this action will help him realise I’m not going to hurt him. I stand up and hand them nervously back to Eric, who hesitates for a second before taking them slightly warily.
“…Thanks,” He says quietly, frowning slightly. “What did you want?”
“I wanted to apologise for how I reacted earlier, not beat you up!” I exclaim incredulously. “I don’t beat people up, Eric! Especially not the ones I like. Look, I really am sorry I was so rude to you earlier. I was having a bad day, but I shouldn’t have taken it out on you, and I really appreciate that you were trying to help.” I take a deep breath and look up at him, slightly nervous for his reaction. Saying what I feel isn’t something I’m good at.
Eric blinks, but then his familiar, slightly goofy smile pulls at his mouth. “Oh. Apology accepted. And I’m sorry I acted so rashly just now, too. I don’t know what I was thinking, Frank.” He claps me on the shoulder in apology.
“Its fine,” I smile a little awkwardly, shifting from one foot to the other, hating the vulnerable me being in the spotlight for so long.
“Are you feeling a bit better now?” Eric asks tentatively. I notice he takes a half step backwards as he says this, and bite my lip guiltily, feeling awful at the thought I’ve actually made someone afraid of me- afraid of someone who’s afraid of everything.
“I honestly don’t know,” I say truthfully, smiling wanly from behind my hair.
Eric smiles too. “Oh. Well, if there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know, Frank.”
“Thanks,” I say genuinely, really meaning it.
“You’re welcome,” Eric says. “Look, I have to run, but I’ll see you in guitar later this week. Hope you feel better.”
He starts off down the corridor before I can thank him properly.
“Hey, Eric!” I call after his retreating figure. He stops and turns round.
“Um, have you seen Mikey Way anywhere? I think he’s in your English class.”
“He is, and he said something about going to the Library,” Eric tells me, waves stoutly, and carries on down the corridor. I watch his retreating figure for a moment, feeling slightly heartened- but that was the easy bit.
I take a deep breath, nod decisively to myself, and set off down the English corridor again, towards the Library at the end, feeling oddly nervous- my heart fumbles anxiously, scared of rejection, and my palms are clammy and sticky as I wring them apprehensively together.
As I approach the end of the corridor, I can hear soft voices coming from near the little coffee machine that sits outside the Library steps, and bite my lip nervously before poking my head round the corner.
Mikey is sitting on the steps that lead down to the Library, back to me, sipping from a plastic cup of the cheap coffee, his light brown hair wispy and curling round his ears and the framework of his glasses. The simple sight of my shy, sweet stepbrother makes me breath a small sigh of relief- but he’s not alone.
Someone hunched and tense is sitting beside him- someone with ruffled, jet black hair and a tattered black leather jacket to hide vulnerability. They’re stirring their cup of colourless coffee listlessly round and round and round with long, pale fingers as the memory-evoking mingling of hidden alcohol and fear and smoke-stained black leather twines out frailly into the surrounding air.
The hunched-up figure doesn’t have to turn round for me to know it’s Gerard.
Like a botched-up injection, his presence instantly makes my heartbeat skyrocket, and I have to grapple for breath as panic smothers me, gorging on the stale oxygen. I almost turn and walk away, but I won’t- I need to apologise to Mikey, and that’s the most important thing right now. Apologise to someone for trying to care, because I’m realising that life’s too short to be a coward.
So instead of fleeing as I so, so want to do- and would have done a couple weeks back- so as I don’t have to face murky emotions lurking at the bottom of my soul, I square my shoulders, try to ignore the feverish flutter of my cluttered-up heart as I walk over to them with trembling legs and teeth gritted in steely determination. The best kind of determination is always from the times you’re most scared, and honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever been this determined to fix something.
Sensing someone else’s presence, Mikey looks up, eyes wide and apprehensive behind the lenses of his owlish glasses. He blinks in surprise when he sees me. “Frank?”
I take a deep breath, heart hammering in my chest. “Hi.”
Gerard doesn’t even bother to look up from his cup of greyish coffee. His hair straggles limply forward, shrouding his face from view, and his long, pale fingers quake around the grip of the plastic cup. I have the sudden urge to hold them the way I did on Saturday- hold them so tightly they don’t have to shake at all.
But I can’t think about him now. With extreme difficulty, I focus on Mikey rather than the broken shadow beside him.
“I came to apologise,” I blurt, feeling my cheeks heat up as I try and actually say the truth about myself- something very, very rare these days. “Uh, again. I seem to spend half my life apologising to people. I really am sorry about this morning- I shouldn’t have said what I did. I didn’t mean it, and well, I really would like to be friends with you, despite the impression I might give sometimes. I’m just not good at…letting people get close to me.” I hide behind my hair, blushing furiously, because quite honestly, the words I’ve just blurted nervously are the most honest ones I’ve uttered in a long time- words that have broken through the protective shell of armour I’ve gradually built up from not letting anyone in.
I stop and take a deep breath, heart fluttering as I await Mikey’s reaction. Gerard is tracing the rim of his cup with one, spidery index finger.
Mikey just looks at me for several moments, hazel eyes x-raying me as I squirm with discomfort, longing for the spotlight to be shone away from the me underneath. Then he bites back a small smile, as if he’s scared of it. “It’s okay,” he says quietly. “We all have our mistakes. I was just worried about you- you know that, right? I wasn’t trying to upset you or anything.”
“I know that,” I say awkwardly, shifting my weight from one foot to the other and watching Gerard dip a finger into his colourless coffee and flick a droplet listlessly at the floor, as if all the energy has been drained from his body and he’s just a zombie, existing on the sorrow of nothing at all.
I force my attention back to Mikey, whose eyes are smiling tentatively at me.
“Thank you,” he says shyly, disintegrating my thoughts that refuse not to stray to the broken marionette beside him. Annoyed with myself, I snatch my gaze from Gerard and look back at the younger Way brother once more.
“…For what?” I blink, somewhat confused. “I yelled at you and told you to leave me alone. I don’t really think that’s something you should be thanking me for.”
A smile flickers across Mikey’s lips, just for a second, before he bites it back as always. “No, for coming here and apologising. It can’t have been easy,” Mikey says softly, eyes searching mine perceptively. I hope he sees my gratitude in there, because I’m not quite sure how to voice it. I think he does, though, because after a second, the corners of his mouth lift very slightly and he motions to the space on the step beside him.
“You want to come sit with us?” He asks shyly, hazel eyes apprehensive on the outside, but empathetic warmth starting to melt their exterior.
I feel an honest smile stretch tickle my lips for the first time today. “Okay.”
“Well, fanfuckingtastic,” a hoarse, dead voice says sarcastically, making me jump and my heart start beating and beating and beating wetly against the confines of my ribs, struggling to be untied.
“Gerard,” Mikey nudges his brother’s darkly rigid stance anxiously. “Don’t.” He looks up at me again. “Please sit with us, Frank.”
Feeling oddly nervous, and managing a small, awkward smile I hope is visible from beneath my hair, I sink down a little self-consciously beside Mikey. Gerard doesn’t even look up from under his lifelessly black hair. He simply continues listlessly flicking droplets of his grey coffee at the floor with his long, artistically trembling fingers.
There’s another silence, but a less awkward this time, because Mikey dips a hand into his pocket, draws out his iPod and offers me an earbud hopefully.
“Thanks,” I say gratefully, feeling almost as shy as he looks. Tentative friendships like my one with Mikey take so much to build, and so little to crumble completely. Rebuilding the semi-ruins isn’t as difficult as I was worried it might be.
For the next few minutes we all sit in silence, Foo Fighters blasting into my left ear from Mikey’s iPod, the wire linking us together and somehow leaving Gerard sitting on the sidelines he’s chosen, in his listless, black silence. But I’m not sure it’s what he really wants, because he looks so dull and defeated, as if there’s no life left in him at all- a marionette that’s been severed from its strings and is too worn-down want to dance on its own anymore.
He’s all covered in black leather and black hair and black demeanour, but I can still see a flash of scarlet under his hair, and he still holds his left arm out at an odd angle that sends churns of uncharted horror through me. I don’t know what the black leather hides, but I know it’s something dark- and probably something dark right.
I sigh silently, listening to the ascending chorus that’s always given me goosebumps from the final power in the ending chords. If only blood made music, the world would be drowning in something beautiful- instead of something twisted.
“Well, look who it is here,” A voice to my right sneers suddenly, making me start and look round, but before I can even work out the situation, Mikey is being hauled to his feet and the pair of earbuds linking us together falls to the grimy steps with a clatter.
I barely notice them, though, because Mikey’s yelping and Gerard’s struggling up and I’m leaping forwards and trying to tug Mikey free from the assaulter’s vice-like grip, the adrenaline that comes so easily pounding potently through my swollen veins.
“Let go of him,” Gerard snarls from behind me. He’s managed to get to his feet, but he sways unsteadily, looking frail and fragile. His arm stays at the odd angle as he uses the coffee machine to hold himself upright, and the shadows of prolonged fear under his eyes make him look more hounded and scared than scary. Something tugs at my heart as he stumbles, desperately trying and failing to reach Mikey.
The freckled boy holding him cackles derisively. “Oh, you do make me laugh, Gay Way,” he sniggers heartlessly.
Gerard blanches, his jaw is clenched in determination- but I see it tremble.
“Let him go,” I shout, needing to direct the attention off Gerard’s crumbling façade. I look up at Mikey’s attacker, recognising the freckled boy as one of Danny’s favourite little followers, Alan.
He winds Mikey, and instinctively, I kick him hard in the shin, fuming with rage. Alan’s eyes cloud darkly, and, making sure my defence backfires, he retaliates by tightening his grip round the pale, vulnerable flesh of Mikey’s neck, making my younger stepbrother, my friend lets out a small, scared squeak of terror.
In an instant, Gerard is at Alan’s side, furiously trying to pull him off Mikey, but Alan just laughs. “Is that really the best you can do, Way?” His sneer stretches obscenely across his face. “I mean, I could so easily deal with you myself, but why bother when I can have other people to do it for me and watch the fun?” His grin widens, showing of a full set of too-white, too-perfect teeth.
With a horrible, sinking feeling in my stomach, I realise that Alan isn’t alone, and that four more of Danny’s little posse are lurking behind him like a force-fed nightmare. I swallow, feeling the taste of blood ready itself in my mouth. My legs tremble, because I know we’re really in trouble. It’s after hours- no one is around to hear us scream.
“Let my brother go,” Gerard says, his voice quiet and deadly- but it quivers, and like the best predators, Alan can sniff out the smallest hint of weakness.
He grins more widely still, still not relinquishing his grip on Mikey’s throat, who’s squirming frantically, hazel eyes wide with pure terror as his arms thrash about urgently, as if he’s trying not to drown. Alan isn’t even looking at him- he’s looking at Gerard with a horrible, sadistic glint in his stony grey eyes.
“Let. Mikey. Go,” Gerard hisses through gritted teeth again. His eyes are narrowed as he glares more pleadingly that fearsomely at Alan.
“Well, Way, tell you what,” Alan says casually, as if he’s having a perfectly normal conversation and isn’t strangling someone in the background. “I’ll let your brother go if you don’t scream.”
“…Scream?” Gerard repeats warily, eyes wild and green and cagey behind his straggly onyx hair, darting from Alan’s accomplices to Mikey to me, like a prisoner knowing their execution is inescapable but still trying to evade it for as long as possible.
“Yes, Gayboy,” Alan says, eyes glittering malevolently in a way that makes me want to throw up. “Scream.” His eyes widen and glitter more darkly.
Before I can even realise what’s happening, two of the guys behind Alan throw themselves at Gerard, one of them holding him still as the other reaches out to the arm that’s sticking out at a funny angle-
“Stop!” I shout frantically, just as the boy digs his fingers into Gerard’s forearm like talons and Gerard screams in raw, animalistic agony, the sound so brutal it sounds as though it’s ripping his throat to shreds. His eyes go wild with sheer pain as he writhes in the other boy’s grip, struggling frantically in terror as he realises the true meaning of Alan’s words.
“Ah,” Alan says smugly. “I thought not. But still, I’m a decent guy, I’ll stick to my deal- if you don’t scream, I’ll let your brother go. But if you do, I’ll tighten my grip each time. Got that?” He grins, twisted and disgusting. Mikey whimpers.
“Get off him!” I throw myself at Alan again, trying to pull Mikey from his grip, but Alan punches me in the stomach so hard I stagger back, eyes watering as I gasp for the breath that’s been knocked out of me. It feels as though my lungs have been scraped with razors.
The boy who dug his nails into Gerard’s arm does it again, harder this time, and I watch in horror, unable to do anything as Gerard’s shrieking emerald eyes writhe in their sockets, wild with pure agony, the veins on his forehead screaming out, pulsing blood while tears threaten to spill down his cheeks. He’s clamping his mouth shut with his teeth, biting so hard down on his lip that blood bursts from the vulnerable flesh, trickling sickeningly down my chin. I suddenly feel beside myself with desperation, ready to throw up the thing writhing so furiously, so fiercely in the pit of my belly.
“It’s okay Gerard!” Mikey chokes out, the veins in his neck standing out from the tightness of Alan’s fiendish grip. “Just scream, please! I’ll be okay!” He looks completely beside himself as he watches his brother convulse silently, again and again, tears spilling over, blood dribbling down onto his school shirt.
Desperately, I lunge at Alan again, but he rebuffs me easily once more and I go stumbling back into the wall beside Gerard, heart thumping furiously in my chest. I can smell the sickeningly familiar metallic tang of ruby blood in the air, and it smothers my senses with brutal memories where concrete grazes my skin and my being is pummelled into agonised oblivion with nothing but the dull, ringing feeling in my ears for company.
“Oi, Samson,” Alan calls flippantly over his shoulder. “Can you take care of the midget here? His pathetic attempts to punch me are getting annoying.”
“Let them go, get the fuck away from him! LET THEM GO!” I scream, utterly beside myself as I’m wrestled into hostage, unable to move, but to watch the two people I care about most get tormented. Mikey’s still- wait. ‘The two people I care most about’?
I go still in my captors arms as this realisation dawns very painstakingly on me and I stop to savour it. I look at Mikey’s fearfully squirming form and hazel terror, and then over to where Gerard is breaking in silenced agony to save his brother, blood gushing down his chin in the living screams he’s biting back, eyes tortured and frantic, shrieking out,while his flawless cheeks glazed with liquid salt. I look at them, and in that moment of bitter reality and metallic blood, it’s all so simple. The adrenaline lets me feel what I feel and what I feel alone- no denial or fear or confusion to tangle the truth up.
Anger is starting to build inside of me, from the fierce writhing in the pit of my belly, scorching and burning my insides as it writhes furiously up inside of me, overwhelming every inch of my body until it overflows completely, spilling out over the edges and I can’t contain it anymore. I barely even notice throwing Samson off me or lunging at Alan’s turned back with every inch of my pulse. He turns round at the last second, and my clenched fist slams into his face with a sickening crunch. With an angry yell of pain, he drops Mikey to the floor, staggering back into the wall, covering his face in his hands.
I fly at him again, because now I’ve started, I can’t quite seem to stop. The anger that’s been forced on me for years on end has built up to some kind of bloodied crescendo of revenge that shouldn’t be me, and I fling myself at Alan again- again and again and again, until it’s all just a blur of flesh breaking flesh and bones grinding and blood and burnt insides and hurt, so much hurt.
“What on earth is going on?!” An clear, angry shout cuts cleanly through my blistering haze of fury, and I’m flung to the floor as Alan stumbles up, grunting in pain, and staggers off down the corridor.
It takes a couple of seconds for my hate-tinted vision to clear, and I realise that Mr. Hallow is striding down the corridor towards us, eyes wide with horror as he takes in the repulsive scene before his eyes.
“Holy shit,” Samson yelps at the two guys who still have hold of Gerard. Every vein on his neck and face is pulsing out, his eyes writhing hysterically as he thrashes desperately to get free, the blood from his silenced agony staining the white of his shirt. He looks like he’s dying.
“Scram, guys!” Samson cries, pulling the two guys off Gerard.
They burl away from the scene before Mr. Hallow can stop them, leaving Gerard to collapse to the floor as raw, agonised gasps wrack his body and his eyes water with liquid, salty pain, whole soul convulsing with agony too strong to scream. Mikey is at his side in an instant, fingers fumbling, voice trembling.
“Boys!” Mr. Hallow is running now, and I become vaguely aware that my face is hurting and there’s warm, wet blood trickling down my knuckles. I fleetingly wonder whose it is.
Mr. Hallow slides to a halt by the coffee machine, panting and looking appalled. “Are you all alright?” He gasps, which I think is a pretty rhetorical question to ask at a situation like this.
However, I nod dazedly, not really sure what else to do. Gerard doesn’t show any acknowledgement of Mr. Hallow’s presence at all. He’s crouched into a ball, body wracked with deep, rasping sobs or gasps- I’m not sure which- but they’re scarringly full of pure, utter agony, filling the whole corridor.
“Michael, are you okay?” Mr. Hallow pants, massaging his chest. Mikey looks up, ashen faced and trembling. He glances down at Gerard and then back up at Mr. Hallow, eyes full of hazel worry.
“Sir, I don’t think my brother is,” he says shakily.
“We need to get him to the nurse’s room,” Mr. Hallow announces grimly. “Frank, can you help me move him?”
I nod again, getting unsteadily to my feet, feeling as though I’m not quite real, and approaching the violently shaking, contorted Gerard cowering away from us all. Trembling, I rest my hand on his shoulder, suddenly wanting to pull him to my chest and hug him so tightly the pieces he’s breaking into will fix themselves back together.
“Get away from me,” he chokes out, shuffling back from my touch.
“Don’t look at me,” he whimpers, pushing Mikey back too. “Leave me alone, please. Leave me alone.” Another sob wracks his body.
“Gerard, you need to come to the nurse’s room,” Mr. Hallow says kindly and firmly. “Can you walk?”
Gerard sniffs furiously from beneath his raven hair, and suddenly staggers blindly to his feet. Before any of us can stop him, he bolts off down the corridor, the choked sounds echoing off the walls as if they’re what he’s trying to run away from. Then he’s thrown himself out into the yard and the door clangs shut loudly behind his untidy, frantic exit, resounding like an unravelling omen through the corridor of blood.
“Gerard,” Mikey whispers, eyes pained. He rises wordlessly to his feet, eyes glued to the door Gerard escaped through.
“We need to call your father,” Mr. Hallow says decisively. “Can you two stay in the nurse’s room while I go along to the office and call him?”
Wordlessly, Mikey nods, snivelling and wiping his nose on the sleeve of his navy duffel coat. Mr. Hallow gently steers him along the corridor, leading us both along towards the office and ushering us into the small, dank nurse’s room that smells dourly of stale sick and disinfectant. The walls are a mouldy green, and a dusty looking bed takes up the majority of the room. Mikey sinks down on it, unblinking.
“I’ll be back in two minutes,” Mr. Hallow promises, ducking back out into the corridor. I listen to his frantic footsteps echoing along the colourless linoleum floors until there’s nothing but silence left, and then I sit down beside Mikey and wait.
By the time Mr. Hallow returns, neither Mikey or I have uttered a single word. I don’t know about him, but I feel numb and incapable of anything but sitting and staring unblinkingly at the cream wall in front of me, because every time I close my eyes, just for a second, I can see Gerard writhing in agony, blood and tears spilling down his face as he thrashed in pain. It’s like flashbacks to your worst nightmare- only it all happened when you were awake.
“Your father’s on the way,” Mr. Hallow says gently, shutting the door behind him and clearly forgetting that Steve is not my Dad. “Are you sure you’re both okay?”
Mikey nods wordlessly again. I can see where Alan’s fingers dug into his throat, because there are angry, purple bruises as though his touch tainted Mikey’s innocent skin.
“Frank?” Mr. Hallow probes tentatively. “You’re bleeding.”
Hah. Well isn’t that the story of my life.
“I’m fine, Sir,” I manage blankly. Some of the emotion and reality is returning to my body, seeping like poison through the quarantine of shock, but the last thing it does is make me feel any better.
“This can’t continue,” Mr. Hallow says gravely, sitting down on the desk opposite us. “You really lost it back there, Frank.”
“Frank was only trying to save us,” Mikey says quietly, eyes serious.
“I know that,” Mr. Hallow replies sadly. “That’s what I meant- he shouldn’t need to defend anyone- or himself. And I think you’ve been putting up with not defending yourself for a very long time, haven’t you, Frank? No one should have to put up with that.”
I don’t know what to say, so I just pick at a loose thread on my ripped jeans and stare at a slightly ominous looking stain on the tiled floor, my heart rate slowly returning to normal.
There must be some kind of very fickle god, though, because before Mr. Hallow can pursue the tentative subject further, there’s a knock on the door to the nurse’s office, and seconds later, Steve pokes his head round the door, eyes anxious, hair damp from the rain that flecks his work suit.
“Mr. Way?” Mr. Hallow stands up as Steve comes in, eyes horrified as he takes in Mikey and my appearances.
“Y-yes,” Steve stammers, eyes not moving from us. “Boys…” He puts a hand up to his head as if trying to block the repulsive truth. “Oh god…Are you both okay?”
Without waiting for an answer, he suddenly pulls Mikey into a fierce hug, burying his face in Mikey’s tufty hair.
“Gerard’s gone,” Mikey says wretchedly, pulling back and looking honestly at his father. “He’s…hurt.”
Steve closes his eyes in despair. “Oh God.” Then, Much to my surprise, he turns to me. “Frank?” he says gingerly, biting his lip and reminding me of Mikey. “A-are you alright?” He tentatively pats me on the shoulder, and despite the awkwardness of the situation, I feel uncharacteristically grateful for Steve’s affection.
I struggle with myself for a moment, then nod in response to his question, ducking back behind my hair, although I guess they all know the truth now, anyway.
“Mr. Way, I understand now is not a good time, but I really think we should arrange a meeting to discuss some very serious matter I’ve been concerned about for a long period of time regarding your boys- Frank in particular,” Mr. Hallow says awkwardly, not quite meeting my eye.
“I agree,” Steve replies, looking relieved. “Completely. Thank you.”
“It’s the least I could do,” Mr. Hallow says simply. “I really hope your boy Gerard is okay- he looked as though he was in a lot of pain.”
Steve rakes a hand through his thinning hair, eyes pained. “I really hope he’s okay too. C’mon boys, I’ll take you home and then I’ll go out and try find Gerard. Unless he’s already there, of course.”
But we all know that Steve’s words are just empty hope.
“Frank?” Steve winds the window down and sticks his head out into the icy dusk, where I’m standing, huddled into the depths of my raggedy black hoodie as the cold wind whips at my hair and stings my cheeks. “Aren’t you getting in?”
I look up at the thickly overcast indigo sky, tasting the ice in the air. I look at the road winding away into the snow-laden dusk, then I look back at Steve, who’s shivering and fumbling with the heating dial.
“I think I’ll walk, actually, Steve,” I tell him, pulling my thin hoodie more closely around my skinny body as the wind rattles through the school car park and bites at the raw flesh on my ears, making me shiver.
“Frank, after all that’s just happened, are you sure-”
“I’ll be fine,” I assure him honestly, fumbling in my pocket for my grey fingerless gloves. “I just want some time to cool off.”
Looking reluctant, Steve nods. “Fine. But be careful, Frank. And if you see Gerard- well…”
“I’ll make sure he’s okay,” I honestly.
“Thank you,” Steve says, throwing me a grateful, worry-tinted smile before winding the window back up and leaving me alone, standing on the rubble and grey gravel of the school car park to watch as the engine chugs into life, the exhaust spluttering dirty smoke into the dwindling light.
I stand in the cold, watching until the blood red tail lights of Steve’s car disappear round the corner and I’m left to trail off into the wintry dusk, lonely, pulling on my fingerless gloves and shivering in the harsh, December wind that howls along the suburban streets, rustling the litter in the gutters and stinging the wounds exposed.
It’s only nearing five, but it’s already almost completely dark; the streetlamps flickering, their soulless yellow illuminating the grime on the pavement and the pollution curling through the air, ebbing unhealthily out into the cold, stark dusk. The pavement is oddly soothing beneath my feet, as rough and uneven as fate.
I don’t know how long I walk for, through the overcast twilight and along the roads where the sea of greasy car headlamps shiver through the slog of trundling traffic. All I know is that I need to walk and walk, because when I stop, I’ll have to face it all.
I pull my hoodie more closely around me, hood up, pull the fabric of my slightly unravelling fingerless gloves as far over my fingers as possible, protecting them from the bitter, stinging cold as best I can, and walk on. I walk under the dusty black-periwinkle sky, along the endless suburban roads of regulation grey, through the grotty back alleys where frost starts to glitter on the crude graffiti, under the greasy-yellow splashes seeping into the black, frost-shimmering pavement from the streetlamps, past the park where Ocean and I used to sit weekend after weekend, until I’m walking away from the city altogether, where the clouds of murky, amber-tinted lift a little and the air is clear; pollution doesn’t taint and scar the snow-laden sky and fumes don’t stain the bitter, cloudy indigo dusk.
The wind has picked up, colder than ever, ruffling my hair and shrieking alongside me so icily my cheeks are so numb they can’t feel it. I don’t look up from the path I’m wending, just watch the frantic pace of my feet pounding the cracked, chewing gum speckled pavements until I reach a dead-end and am forced to grind to a halt, panting slightly.
My hot breath curls out smokily from between my lips into the frozen December dusk, filming my view for a second, before evaporating into the starless sky. My nose throbs with the cold, and although I can’t see it, I know its rosy red.
I blink when I see where I’ve wound up, because it’s somewhere I haven’t been for years- but somewhere I used to come all the time, almost every day years back, to write lyrics and practise guitar around the time my parents were going through their divorce. It was the only peaceful place- a place where I could hear my thoughts and I could sit for hours on end with nothing but my music to patch up the freshly cut wounds.
Breath still floating from my lips like vaporous icing sugar, I reach up and intertwine my swollen, red fingers with the rusty railing of the gate, like touching a dusty memory as I look into the soft, whispering shadows of the local graveyard. I’ve always found there to be something inexplicably peaceful about it, but after I moved closer into the city centre with Mom when the divorce was finalized, I stopped coming here.
I wish I hadn’t.
The wool of my grey fingerless glove snags slightly on the rust of the gate as I push it open, heart beating fast as I step into the tranquil shadows of the cemetery for the first time in years, tasting the memory-inducing lilt of metallic, rotting earth as I walk silently under the swaying, naked branches of the now stark weeping willows that shiver away from winter, eyes wide in the cold because suddenly, I know I’m not alone.
Up ahead, under the oldest willow tree, where I used to sit and hide from the world, is someone as alone and afraid as I was then, than I am now.
I take a deep breath of the icy, snow-laden dusk, letting the December air tint my lungs with frost, huddle into my hoodie and then I exhale it, watching it sparkle like frost as it curls wispily up into the dwindling light before walking over to the biggest piece of the jigsaw.
Did you guys like this okay? It was another risk, but I hope it was a good one…? :L Let me know if it was shit, if it is, I’ll take the chapter down and re-write, ‘cause I feel oddly nervous about posting it! Did the whole fight scene work okay? I’m never too sure about them. If you guys are getting fed up waiting for Frerard (after twenty five chapters, I don’t blame you!), then I think you’re gunna like the next chapter xD I'm sorry if the story has been kinda boring 'cause it's taken so long to get going...Rates and reviews would be amazing, ‘cause I’ve worked super hard on this chapter- plus, then you’ll get to read the next chapter sooner xD A massive thank you to everyone reading, rating and reviewing. I love you all so much.