Then he smiles at me; shakily, nervously, sweetly, and it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
I would like to dedicate this chapter to a very special reader, Alexandra_Day, whose amazing emails and reviews never fail to make my day. The things you say about my writing give me the push to keep writing, even when I feel terrible. Hope this makes you smile a little, honey, ‘cause you sure as hell deserve to. Stay strong, don’t give up. You’re amazing, okay? I wish I could do more to cheer you up and thank you for your wonderful support, but this is the best I can do…hope it’s to your liking. This one’s for you xoxo
Chapter Twenty Seven
When I wake up the next morning, everything feels different. Not in the kind of way that would be externally noticeable, but in a silently beautiful sort of way; a floatingly brand-new way that’s clear and fluid, tumbling wispily through me and erasing the usual cold, ensnared feel of fear and dread that usually chokes me the second I return to consciousness. Instead, I feel vulnerably warm and content in the comfort of my duvet, just seeping up the gentle warmth of unremembered dreams and breathing.
The morning air is freezing cold, stinging the only exposed skin on my face which still feels slightly raw from trekking through the bitterly cold city alleys home last night.
Blustery graveyards in the bitter indigo dusk. Snow too scared to fall. That warm, fierce little tug in the heart of my chest. Tear streaked cheeks and trembling fingers of someone even more broken than me. Last night.
Like a streak of scared charcoal, everything about it overcomes and overwhelms my sleepiness, suddenly making my skull crammed full of things to comprehend. My heart starts to beat faster, elated and terrified all at once, thudding nervously at my ribcage and trying not to escape the inevitable.
Memory-cobwebbed images of trailing lamplit, city streets home with cold lungs and interlaced fingers are all that paint their way across the back of my closed, salty for someone else eyes. The memories are painted in tentative strokes that empathise with Gerard’s eyes, glittering with invisible tears and broken-up mistrust in the greasy streetlights of flashbacks. I can still see him with such painstaking detail compared to the rest of the blurry, bitter December world; the way tendrils of his midnight hair fluttered like frayed black-butterfly wings in the icy breeze, as the hesitant snow whispered down on the tainted city back-alleys’ grime, turning it all pure again.
I sigh silently, holding onto the memory like it’s my final wisps of oxygen, and the fierce little bubble in my chest soars nostalgically, wishing the past was the present.
But if I squeeze my eyes shut tight enough, I can almost still feel the alive, tender warmth of his fingers laced through mine, five stains of living warmth in the cold vastness of reality; in all the bitter wars and howling wind; linking two hacked-about heartbeats together in the dark and the cold as our powdered footsteps made angel shapes in the snow behind us. I can almost taste the dirty pollution in the icy air lashing our skin and howling through our skeletons, almost feel the cold sears of snow melting onto my exposed skin…
After that, it all goes hazy, like my memory’s melted; snow brought inside. It’s all a blur of Mom and Mikey’s relieved faces, Steve’s angry one and Gerard’s brokenly defiant one; the fear etched across his flawless features; the way the darkness of the depth of winter pressed its ghostly black fingertips against the windowpanes as Steve talked to him sadly, angrily, despairingly.
I sat uncomfortably on the stairs in the shadowed hallway for ages, feeling dreamlike, watching the soft light and Gerard’s obliterated composure spill out onto the carpet before me, wanting nothing more than for him to appear so as I could try and hold him together, because I needed to hold him; to feel his straggly, split end hair tickle my cheeks; to smell the smoky peppermint and rebellious leather and tears and lose myself in it. I needed it like I’d never needed anything alive before- I needed it the way I need music.
The little bubble of constrained warmth in the heart of my chest ached as I sat there, hearing Steve tear the remainders of Gerard’s armoured debris down for what seemed like hours. In the end, I couldn’t bear listening to it anymore, so I trailed upstairs into the shadows to bed, half elated from the raw, black walk home, half scared for my shedding skin, the ghost of Gerard’s vulnerable touch still potent on my skin, like the most broken person in the world was holding me together.
By the time I finally fell asleep with a head full of windswept graveyards and tear-stained cheeks, the snow was falling fast outside the window, dusting the pavements silently in renewed innocence.
As a kid, I always loved to watch the snow, because it was like watching a fairytale and forgetting reality, getting lost in its pure white scripture- but last night, I didn’t want to forget reality. For once, reality was the fairytale, what I wanted to lose myself in, so I just shut my eyes and let the snow fall in black velvet privacy to the grimy gutters and polluted roads.
I let out a soft sigh and open my eyes to the cold morning air, blinking slightly in the bleak, grey brightness. Last night I may not have wanted to watch the snow, but suddenly, that childish excitement starting to bubble in the pit of my belly as I wonder if when I draw my bedroom curtains, I’ll see a white world outside or not.
Heart beating hopefully, I tentatively sit up in bed, shivering in the sudden icy temperature that slaps my skin the second the protection of my duvet falls away. My room looks the same as ever with the various music magazines and clothes scattered across the carpet, my giant The Used poster by the door, and the mattress to the right of my bed, where my younger stepbrother is curled up into a tiny little ball under his duvet, only a few tufts of mousy hair visible.
I feel a small smile curve my lips as I watch him breathing softly in and out, snuffling a little every so often in the cold grey morning light, and a pang of affection shoots through me for my vulnerable, shy little stepbrother.
My eyes catch on my bedside clock, and I see that it’s just after eight, which only increases the excitement frothing in the pit of belly…Surely Mom or Steve would have woken us up by now if there wasn’t snow?
Half apprehensively, I push back my duvet and get out of bed as quietly as I can, padding across the littered carpet in my bare feet to the window, the icy cold air instantly biting at my bare arms, spreading goosebumps my bare skin and under the black sleeves of my tattered Black Flag t-shirt.
I take a deep breath, hold it, and pull open my bedroom curtains.
The held excitement implodes in my belly, spilling over and under my innards with its pooling of held-breaths, while an uncontrollable smile takes over my face because when I look outside, it may as well be a whole different reality.
The usually dank, dour greyness of the city below my window that stretches out in a stagnant haze towards the sluggish horizon, is transformed. Instead of dreary grey pavements stretching out into bitter nothingness, there are crisp, sparkling white pathways, laden in the powdery, pure white that dusts the rooftops and is still tumbling gracefully, silently, from the thick grey clouds overhead.
“…Mmmhh…Frank…?” A small stirring sound and Mikey’s sleepily befuddled little mumble breaks through my elation and I whirl round from the window, heart pounding- not with fear, but with excitement, just the way it did when I was a little kid and opened my bedroom curtains to a sparkling, white world. I feels as though I’ve shed the last six years of my life from my shoulders, even if it’s only for this one moment, and they’re falling like the snow, turning sinless and white as they fall.
“Really?” Mikey’s eyes light up as he springs out of bed, the sleepiness falling away instantly, a small smile pulling hopefully at his mouth as he scrambles across the room to join me at the window, his hair all rumpled and tufty, shabby penguin pyjamas making him look younger and skinnier than ever. His eyes light up as he sees the world outside; the pure, white city and the torn-up angels’ wings still cascading from the laden sky.
“Oh…wow,” he whispers, pressing his face right up against the frosted glass, hazel eyes reflecting the cold December world. The view outside is completely white apart from the grey, snow-promising sky and a few of the stark trees along the street whose red berries scatter the freshly fallen snow like beautiful blood crystals.
“I know,” I tuck my hair behind my ear and stare earnestly out at the world, enthralled, the excitement still bubbling frothily inside of me as I watch the snowflakes fall giddily, the wonderful, warm happiness of Christmas holidays and memories of pine needle scented hugs fills me up to the brim. I feel just like a kid again, when everything wasn’t all mangled up with hormones and social status and being able to hide your emotions.
“It’s so beautiful,” Mikey turns to me, his hazel eyes sparkling with happiness.
“I know. And you know something else?” I turn away from the window to grin widely at Mikey, for not downplaying my feelings. “This means no school.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mousy little stepbrother smile so widely or happily before; it transforms his usually anxious, drawn, skinny face, making it radiant and child-like, infectious and bubbly in the air that tastes of sparkly white excitement and shaken-up snowglobe memories. I feel like jumping up and down the way I used to as a kid, but I’m not quite confident enough to be that open with someone yet, so I just smile back, just as big, just as wide, and suddenly feel very much the opposite of alone as we both stand there, smiling like idiots at something so simple.
But real smiles are like sunrises; rare, beautiful, and usually happen when the world isn’t watching. They shouldn’t be scoffed at. I can’t remember the last time I smiled one, but it feels like forever.
“I love the snow,” I mumble softly, still smiling widely, despite the fact I’m now shivering violently in my tatty navy PJ bottoms and Black Flag shirt.
“Me too,” Mikey sighs happily, staring out at the winter city. “When I was a kid at Christmas, Gerard and I…” he trails off suddenly, ducking his head as the radiant smile melts off his face like snow brought inside. Shaking his head, he looks back out at the feathers fluttering and flying purely from the glowering clouds and sighs softly, dropping his gaze to the floor and rubbing his forearm self-consciously.
My heart suddenly feels heavy and cold in my chest. “…Gerard and you…?” I repeat probingly, wanting to hear what he was going to say yet wanting to forget everything about Gerard at the same time, because it makes the little bubble in the heart of my chest ache.
“I…I just miss him, that’s all,” Mikey says quietly, eyes on the falling snow.
“You see him all the time,” I say uncomfortably, even though I know that’s not really what Mikey meant. It worries me slightly that I actually know what he meant. I start to feel a little swamped, like I’m in too deep- floundering in something I kid myself I hate.
“Yes, but that’s not Gerard,” Mikey mumbles. “Not my brother Gerard, the Gerard I love.” His gaze follows the tale the white flakes weave between us and the world, before he sighs and looks up at me, his beseeching, wary hazel eyes vulnerable without their glasses. “I think you know that too.”
I don’t know quite what to say to that, because it is the truth, and the truth is what I struggle with. I’ve spent so long playing hide and seek with it, trying to evade it, that it’s hard to let it in again and realise that it doesn’t have to be the enemy. Instead of speaking, I mumble something incoherent and duck behind my hair awkwardly, moving away from the window to rummage through my chest of drawers for a hoodie.
“It’s like…he’s just a hologram,” Mikey says quietly, tone so sad and lonely it makes my heart ache in a way that has nothing to do with the fact it’s related to Gerard, just the pure, simple pain in the words. Mikey’s so painstakingly simple about emotions- they are what they are, and he doesn’t hide them or lie about them. It might make him appear more anxious than me, but he’s far braver.
“I don’t know where the real Gerard’s gone,” he continues sadly, nibbling at his lip as he watches the glass mist up from his pulse. “I…I just know why, but that doesn’t make it any easier.”
That makes me stop in my tracks. I look up and meet Mikey’s eyes, heart suddenly racing at his words. “W-why?” I blurt, stumbling slightly as I pull on an ancient grey hoodie and a pair of fluffy black socks Ocean gave me last Christmas without breaking eye contact, my pulse fluttering for answers, answers, answers.
Mikey blinks at me. “I thought you hated Gerard?” he curls the statement into a question, just like the truth has, and I know the fact I care a lot more than I’ve convinced myself is obvious now. “I mean, unsurprisingly,” Mikey sighs quietly. “I don’t blame you or anything. He’s especially horrible to you- I wish he wasn’t. I don’t know why he is.”
I open my mouth to lie, then my gaze falls on the snow and suddenly I’m walking home hand in hand with Gerard, the darkness curling round us, the wind trying to slice through us, but our hands linked in the kind of silence that says so much more than words ever could. Reluctantly, I drag myself from the memory and look seriously at Mikey, knowing he deserves the truth, and I need to be brave.
“I…” I bite my lip and sigh, digging my hands into the depths of my hoodie pocket for warmth, unbrushed hair straggling down across my eyes. “Mikey…I don’t hate Gerard. I really don’t. I kind of wish I did, but…” the words tremble, scared to be somewhere people can hear their truth. “I just can’t,” I finish simply.
Mikey looks vaguely surprised, but after a moment he smiles sadly at me, blinking those shy, sorrowful hazel eyes at me and says equally simply; “I know.”
Normally, I hate it when people say that, assume they know how you feel- but I think he really does know.
I wish I did.
“So…” I break the silence, my voice sounding too loud for the snow-silenced world. I sift through my befuddled, contradictory thoughts for something to say, but Mikey gets there before me. He’s still watching the winter tumble down from its preface, a sad, dreamy quality to his normally nervous hazely brown eyes.
“Gerard loves the snow too…” he murmurs, almost to himself. “When we lived with our Mom and it snowed, we always used to go down to the beach where the snow and the sea mingled, because Gerard loved to draw it. He said that it was a brilliant metaphor for the fact that sometimes, things are just too dark for even the purest things to fall on. I miss…I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.” He shakes the sadness away from his gaunt, skinny little face and forces a repulsively false smile.
It makes my heart feel diseased to look at it and think about Gerard, my body recoiling as the heavy, leaded emotion of depression and anger threatens to engulf me once more. I haul myself out of my thoughts then, needing to stay in the fairytale feathers of last night.
Biting my lip and making sure my hair is covering my ugly face, I glance at Mikey’s miserable, pale face, and suddenly want to be the one to put the elated, indulgent smile back on it. We all spend our time being sad, and Mikey of all people doesn’t deserve it.
“Hey,” I say suddenly, feeling a little nervous. “How about we just forget all the…all the shit stuff and enjoy our day off?” I survey Mikey anxiously for his response, not used to making the first move and making myself vulnerable.
Mikey smiles a little weakly. “That sounds good,” he says gratefully, sniffing slightly and pulling the sleeves of his faded pyjamas over his hands.
“Okay then,” I say casually, shaking my hair into my eyes and starting towards the door, feeling a lot like a kid again. “Let’s go eat breakfast, then.”
After Mom and Steve leave in a flurry of coats and scarves and briefcases for work, Mikey and I gather breakfast and spend our morning holed up in the warmth of the living room on the old patchwork sofa, watching The Big Bang Theory and laughing at all our favourite bits. It’s easy and comfortable and far more fun than I’d expected, hanging out with shy little Mikey when there isn’t something angsty and school-related to get in the way. I’d forgotten what it’s like to have a proper friend- and I think that’s what Mikey is. He’s not the kind of friend I would have imagined having- he’s just about the polar opposite to Ocean, but maybe that’s a good thing. Mikey doesn’t hurt me.
I still feel vaguely hesitant around him, worried that- as I’ve done already, more times than I’d like to count- I’ll snap at him and lose my temper. It’s not easy getting close to people when you’ve closed them out for so long, and I don’t want to mess things up with Mikey. I don’t want to hurt him; he’s not robust and steely like Ocean; he’s brave and wears his feelings on the outside of his chest, and I admire that so much, although I’ll never tell him.
Outside the window, the snow is falling faster than ever in a thick veil of pure white feathers that cloak the already white street in icy cold December. The laden steely grey sky is so darkened with the promise of snow that the streetlamps are still on, spilling slews of greasy yellow onto the sparkling white and illuminating the fast-falling flakes. With the lights glowing on the Christmas tree in the corner of the living room, the fire crackling in the grate and the smell of pine needles and cinnamon incense filling the house, it all suddenly feels very Christmassy.
“You realise it’s only three weeks until Christmas?” I say suddenly, turning to Mikey and swallowing my mouthful of toast, swiping crumbs away from the corners of my mouth and making sure that my tousled hair still hangs down protectively across my face.
Mikey nods, a small little smile pulling at his thin, innocently pink mouth. It’s not as simple as happiness, though, it’s laced with immeasurable sadness too, and I suddenly that Christmas time comes along with a whole snowdrift of memories. Mikey’s innocent brown eyes are hazy with a layer of memory dust, and I realise for the first time, that, although he might not lash out the way Gerard has done, Mikey might be just as unhappy here as his older brother. Maybe he just wants to spend Christmas in the past, where it’s all okay. Where Gerard’s okay.
Gerard. The crepuscular name beats through my bloodstream with every thud of my increasing heartbeat. It’s making me nervous and edgy, starting every time there’s a creak from one of the floorboards upstairs, ears straining to hear the noise of someone’s footsteps on the staircase, and glancing towards the living room doorway every five minutes in trepidation and hope that there’ll be an enigmatic, dark figure shadowing the room. But the staircase stays silent and the doorway stays empty.
I clench my fists and hide behind my hair angrily, forcing myself not to care, which really, is not as easy as it’s been before. I’m torn between completely embracing the wonderful, elated, light feeling that still radiates tentatively round me from last night and blocking it out, blocking Gerard out, blocking everything else out so there’s no risk of getting hurt.
But sometimes, there are things worth getting hurt for.
I let out another sigh and fiddle with the cord of my hoodie, only half concentrating on the TV screen. It’s nearly midday now, and Mikey and I have moved onto our third morning snack, this time sharing the plate of mince pies Mom made last night. We’ve discussed comic books, Mr. Hallow, what’s going to happen when Steve confronts us about the incidents of yesterday afternoon (Mikey predicts a school meeting, I predict being forced into counselling and stabbing the school counsellor to death with her own ‘positive thinking’ cards), and relaxed in each other’s company a great deal, but I sill can’t help my thoughts twitching towards his darker, wilder brother.
There’s still no sign of Gerard, and I’m growing more and more anxious, anticipating the worst of how he’ll react to seeing me. It seems completely out of the question after past experience that he’ll actually be nice- I’m not stupid enough to expect that, but all the same, butterflies battle in my gut, grazing their wings against my stomach, fluttering through my veins and getting their papery wings all tangled up in my ribs every time his name flits through my skull.
I’m all knotted up in fears and premonitions revolving round one broken façade, and I know exactly why, no matter how much I try to push it away and concentrate on easier things. I know why I’m scared.
Last night, I felt like I haven’t for years- ever. I felt light; alive without music.
I felt like one of the tentative, brand new snowflakes dreaming through the endless, indigo December dusk.
But every snowflake has to hit the ground sooner or later.
I jump violently as a loud bang from a staged collision on a Car Insurance advert startles through my thoughts, and the mince pies fall to the floor with a clatter as I whip round to the doorway, heart racing, mind blurred.
The doorway is empty.
My expectant heart sinks ashamedly in my chest, but not enough to stop its edgy, apprehensive palpitations. I suddenly realise Mikey is looking at me, biting back a small smile as if he knows a secret he hasn’t been told.
“Is ‘The Big Bang Theory’ really that scary?” he asks lightly, shyness not quite evident enough now to mask the amusement in his voice.
“Um,” I look back around guiltily, feeling my cheeks burn as I retrieve the fallen mince pies. “Not really,” I admit. “But I am kinda pathetic when it comes to things like that- I was terrified of ‘Wallace and Gromit’ as a kid,” I blurt, hoping to deflect his attention from the fact I’m getting really nervous about what will happen when Gerard finally does appear and I can’t stop looking round at the doorway.
Mikey’s quietly amused smile is getting wider, though he’s trying to hide it with his faded penguin pyjama sleeve and his mousy tufts of hair, which is sort of useless, because the furthest down they reach is the nape of his neck in pale little wisps.
“Hey,” I say, pretending to be offended. “Is it really that pathetic?”
“No. No, of course not,” Mikey says without meeting my eye and suddenly becoming very interested in the remnants of his third mince pie, breaking of pastry morsels with his pale fingers to get to the gooey inside. Suddenly, the smile splits across his face and he looks at me, eyes kind and amused at the same time. “Seriously, I can’t take it…What the hell is scary in Wallace and Gromit?”
I scowl, folding my arms across my chest and trying furiously to ignore my fluttery heart, because I’m sick of feeling so vulnerable to my emotions. It’s scary and far too much like being alive.
“C’mon, what about the penguin?” I appeal, focusing back on the conversation. “He was really freaky with those beady little eyes and evil genius plans.”
Mikey lets out a funny little giggle, shaking his tufty head. “Sorry, I’ve never been scared by programmes made for five year olds. You’d never guess it, ‘cause I’m such a twitchy, nervous person in real life, but I’m actually really good with scary movies and shit. Gerard’s the scaredy-cat when it comes to things like that. He was really scared of Preston the robot dog in Wallace and Gromit. Still is, actually.”
“Spilling my darkest secrets, are we, Michael?” a blackly quiet, slightly ragged voice drifts over from the doorway, making us both jump and look round.
My heart turns dramatically over in my chest, making my stomach squirm uncomfortably and my pulse jump, because suddenly, Gerard is standing slightly unsteadily where I’ve wanted him to materialise all morning. He’s really there, leaning half casually, half uncertainly against the doorframe, all dishevelled tangles of midnight hair hanging in his face, tartan PJ bottoms and a worn The Smiths hoodie- and I’m suddenly having to duck my head as my cheeks flame with unforgotten memories and the dramatised beat of my heart, as the weak, mock-up armour I’ve been trying to build around the space between myself and my emotions melts without any fight.
“Gerard?” Mikey blinks in surprise, putting down his mug of half-drunk coffee, his hazel eyes wide and happy at the sight of his elder brother.
“How on earth did you guess?” Gerard mutters darkly, but not in a snide sort of way, more in my kind of cover-all-uncertainty-with-dark-sarcasm way. He pulls uncomfortably at the hem of his pyjama shirt as if he’s trying to hide non-existent fat.
“A-are you going to come and sit with us?” Mikey asks almost shyly, hazel eyes all hopeful behind his geeky glasses as he gazes at his inscrutable brother anxiously.
Gerard shifts his weight uncomfortably from one foot the other, still all hidden behind his blacker-than-midnight hair. “Uh…I dunno,” he mumbles gruffly, gnawing delicately at the nails of his left hand. I notice that his fingers are stained with charcoal, and wonder if he spent his night bleeding out graphite worlds to alleviate the real one.
“Please?” Mikey presses, all tufts of mousy hair and wide, hazel eyes- but Gerard’s eyes aren’t on him; they’ve drifted to rest searchingly on mine, making the blood in my veins run backwards and the oxygen get all caught up in my lungs as their vibrantly shattered emerald gets tangled up with my own boring brown.
It’s not dead, it’s not a façade. It’s as alive as it was that night I helped him home from the club; the time I heard him singing; as it was last night in the blustery dusk of the tear-trailed graveyard. But this time, it isn’t supplied by alcohol. It's real.
“You wouldn’t mind, would you Frank?” Mikey asks anxiously, swivelling to look at me too, and I tear my gaze from Gerard’s, ducking my head angrily to cover up for my vulnerability, trying fiercely to swallow my frantic, fluttering heartbeat.
“Um. No. Not at all. There’s, uh, plenty of room on the sofa,” I blurt awkwardly, blushing at my own stuttering stupidity and crumbling the remains of my mince pie to diffuse the attention away from my face. My fingers are clumsy with sweat and I spill crumbs all across the floor.
Gerard’s lips half-quirk for a second, as if he’s amused, but then his eyes cloud with something a lot like uncertainty or insecurity, and he bites his lip as though torn- like he’s choosing which side to put his life on.
“Please?” Mikey presses quietly. There’s complete, unticking silence, because Mikey’s pressed mute on the TV, and the snow falling thickly and beautifully from the polluted sky has rendered the cars and the noise and the churn of the city voiceless in the white daydream.
“…I guess...I could…It’s not like I have anything better to do,” Gerard mumbles uncertainly after several moments, pushing his hair out of his eyes a little with unsteady, pale fingers and giving me a sudden streak of wild green fear. “Just for a bit,” he compromises awkwardly, sounding most unlike Gerard.
Hesitantly, he shuffles almost apprehensively into the room and towards the sofa to sink down in the little space between me and Mikey. I notice that his injured arm is still bent at a funny angle and he positions himself carefully so as it’s facing away from Mikey, as if Gerard’s scared its darkness will contaminate his younger brother.
Instantly, a little memory-ghost in the wisps of peppermint and smoky leather and hidden, salty fear slips into my senses, and the little fiery bubble in my chest is tugged so strongly by the evocative scents, I have to struggle to stay in the present, to see the rugged, tangled, uncertain Gerard sitting beside me now- not the wild, out of control one I hung onto in the graveyard less than twenty four hours ago.
“Um, can you shift up a little?” Gerard’s speaking to me, not quite meeting my eyes, but sounding uncharacteristically gentle and polite- almost shy. He sounds like a cross between Mikey and drunk Gerard and someone darkly intelligent, and despite the fact the smell of stale drink lingers dustily about him, it’s clear he’s sober. Excruciatingly, brilliantly sober. I haven’t been allowed to see this Gerard before, and he makes the little bubble in my chest soar sky-high with warmth, my heart beat faster.
Obediently, I squish myself as far towards the arm of the sofa as I can, but even so, Gerard’s still squashed up against both Mikey and me, a tangle of skinny limbs and split-ends of midnight smoky hair and uncertainty. His right arm’s all warm against mine through the fabric of his tattered black hoodie, and I instinctively, I feel myself relax, as though I’ve let out a long exhale and I’m finally safe; leaning against someone I was determined to hate and breathing in the forgotten salt of real tears.
“Nice socks,” he mumbles, breaking me from my thoughts and poking one of my black fluffy-sock clad feet with a long, quavering fingertip, as something that could be the beginnings of a smile pulls hesitantly at his mouth, but he’s hidden it all behind messy onyx hair.
“T-thanks,” I stammer, pulse racing. “Uhm, Ocean got them for me.”
“Ah, the blue-haired chick who called you last night?” Gerard asks quietly, eyes sad, serious green, peeking out at me from behind their chosen shadows for just a split second. My cheeks flame instantly, the memory rushing back to me faster than the blood to my face. Not trusting myself to speak, I simply nod and turn my attention back to the TV, heart racing more than time.
“How is she?” Mikey asks politely, sounding distinctly nervous. His eyes are wide and owlish in his pale face, making him look younger than ever.
I sigh a little, raking a slightly shaky hand through my hair and hurriedly letting it fall back across my disfigured face, not wanting Gerard to see, even though he already knows what’s there. “I don’t know,” I reply honestly, staring at the carpet.
“Oh,” Mikey blinks, and returns hastily to watching the TV as though he’s said something he shouldn’t have. I notice he keeps glancing at Gerard as if he can hardly believe he’s sitting with us. I know how he feels.
“The Big Bang Theory, huh?” Gerard asks quietly after a moment, fidgeting with the cushion beside him, turning to Mikey and nodding towards the TV as the ad break finishes, his nimble fingers quavering and pulling at a loose thread.
Mikey nods. “Is that okay?” he asks anxiously.
Nodding, Gerard tries for a smile, but it’s all wobbly round the edges and makes the feeling in my chest swell even more, pulling powerfully at the edges, as though it’s trying to fill my whole body with its inexplicable feeling.
Beside me, Gerard huddles into the sofa, pulling his knees up to his chest for comfort and resting his chin on them with a small sigh that ruffles his ebony hair, as Mikey turns up the volume of the TV and the comforting background noise of a screen fills the room. I relax a little, though my pulse still jumps and flutters.
“Where are the parents?” Gerard mumbles as the theme tune starts up, eyes wide and brilliant green behind their shrouding of raven. He looks completely vulnerable- more vulnerable than me, even more vulnerable than mousy little Mikey. The thing in my chest aches agonisingly again.
“Um,” my voice is all hoarse when I try to speak. “Uh, they had work. They’ll be back a couple hours early though, ‘cause of the weather.”
Gerard nods silently in acknowledgement and huddles closer into himself, and suddenly, the most powerful feeling is flooding me; deep and tugging and slightly, tenderly, warm round the edges, all emanating from that fierce little bubble I can’t squash. It makes it ache and squiggle, and I have to fight the urge to hug the broken-up, black haired boy beside me. I swallow in horror, realising in that simple emotion just how much I actually care. I’m in too far now- I can’t stop, and it’s terrifying to think that someone’s broken down the angry armour I’ve spent years building up protectively around me and is starting to get in.
“Sleep well?” Mikey’s voice asks in a tremblingly chirpy sort of voice, like he’s trying to be positive, but he sounds as nervous and worked up as I feel, and I remember that I’m not the only one Gerard can be rude to.
“No,” Gerard mutters gruffly. There’s an awkward silence, during which I see his eyes blanch and he swallows, the pale flesh of his throat convulsing as, eyes fixed determinedly on the screen, he mumbles in an oddly softened tone; “Um, how…uh…how about you?”
Mikey blinks owlishly. “Oh. Um. Fine thanks,”
I blink too, heart pounding. Beside me, Gerard huddles closer into himself still, not looking at either of us, hugging his knees and hiding behind his jet black tangles of hair with a small, ragged sigh that matches the lamenting sadness of the snow.
We all watch the TV in slightly awkward silence until the next ad break, my heart thudding the whole time as my thoughts whirl so fast it’s like the blizzard sleeting against the window outside.
“Um, I’m just gunna go shower and get dressed,” Mikey says awkwardly, getting up off the sofa and gathering up the mince pie plate. “I’ll be back in a bit.” And before I can completely freak out, he scuttles out of the cosy room towards the stairs and I’m left alone with Gerard and a manic pulse and my own thoughts.
It takes a couple of moments for me to work up the courage to look round at him, and my heart turns over in my chest when I realise he’s already looking all warmly at me from behind those straggles of shadowed, inky hair and smudged eyeliner.
“Hi,” he whispers, glittering eyes pained yet calmer at the same time.
“H-hey,” I stammer, fighting the urge to break his gaze. My thoughts, my composure, my shell, fall as silently and easily in the snow as I get entangled with that impassive yet impassioned emerald glimmer.
He almost quirks the broken remains of a smile before looking back to the TV and letting his head slump back against the sofa with a ragged, torn-up sigh that wracks his skinny ribcage.
“You okay?” I stutter, blinking.
Gerard lets out another sigh and rolls his head to face me, eyes meeting mine. He nods, expression half-warm, half-broken down. Then he smiles at me; shakily, nervously, sweetly, and it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It’s so honest and scared and alive, and I realise something utterly and completely terrifying.
It’s funny how everything can suddenly fall into place and fall completely apart at the same time; at the same realisation.
“…Are you alright?” Gerard’s frowning, eyes glimmering full of concern as he looks at me worriedly.
“I-I…Yes. Fine,” I stammer angrily, feeling completely flustered. I'm clenching my fists so tightly that my nails are digging grooves into the flesh of my palm as the thoughts behind my skull rush and rupture and just…Oh my god.
“Sure?” he probes quietly, tucking a strand of ebony hair behind one ear as he continues to look perceptively and anxiously at me, like he might even care.
I nod furiously, frantic to leave my thoughts behind somewhere I won't have to look at them. Not yet.
“Uhm, I like your hoodie,” I blurt out wildly before the thoughts can consciously reach me properly, and I have to face them without any preparation. My heart's still thumping, my fists still clenched with self-fury.
“Thanks,” Gerard replies, the smallest of amused smiles pulling at the corners of his mouth, but he tries to bite it back quickly, pulling self-consciously at his sleeve as his hair falls back across his ivory skin. “You, um, you like The Smiths then?”
“Yeah, but I’m more of a Smashing Pumpkins guy,” I say shakily, the words feeling completely separate from my heart thudding and my mind whirring so fast I’m not sure what’s my heartbeat and what’s my mind.
“Hmm, they are good, but I’m sorry to inform you that The Smiths own them any day,” Gerard says quietly, still tugging nervously at his sleeve, but there’s a touch of humour in his tone, and I catch a glimpse of his gaze peeking out from under his hair and it’s smiling secretly.
Something funny happens to my chest, and I find I’m smiling too, despite the mess that’s raging inside of me. “Uh, I don’t think so. The Pumpkins’ songs are far better- don’t you find Morrissey gets a little, I don’t know, whiney?”
“Don’t even think about dissing Morrissey. Morrissey could kick your ass any day, okay?” Gerard smiles almost shyly from behind his hair, nudging me slightly with his elbow, and biting his lip as the smile widens.
“Yeah, and everyone in Smashing Pumpkins could kick yours. And Morrissey’s,” I point out, nudging back. The warm feeling in my chest is spreading, seeping through my ribs and into my lungs, turning them to mush.
“Morrissey’s ass is un-kickable,” Gerard says seriously. “Mine, on the other hand…” he’s still all uncertain like he’s forgotten how to be this Gerard, but I can see the grin he’s not quite brave enough to manifest shimmering in his eyes.
For a while, we’re both silent, watching the TV or watching the snow.
I’m lost in blocked-out thoughts to the extent that I jump slightly when I feel Gerard shifting about on the sofa and putting his slim, tartan PJ clad legs tentatively up over mine so as he can lay back on the sofa, eyes all sad and far away with the pretence of watching the TV screen, his raven hair sweeping in split-end straggles across the canvas of his face.
I swallow hard, stomach writhing.
“I used to go out and draw the snow,” he murmurs with a small sigh, eyes glazed with snowflake falling memory so as they can’t quite meet mine, even though they try to. “I'd go down to the beach were the salt of the sea and the sand was too strong to keep the snowflakes alive and they melted into nothingness. If I went at night, there would be this line of white, verging on the damper sand, and then it would all melt away completely as it reached the churning, black sea’s waves," he takes a shuddery breath that wracks his whole body and continues, his voice raggedly disjointed. "It might have reflected the falling flakes or the stars if the moon was shining on the water, but that was all. It could watch the beauties of the world, but it was too warped and too dark to mingle with them. It was the loneliest thing.”
Gerard’s eyes find mine properly, holding on with painstaking sincerity. “I liked it ‘cause it was the only thing lonelier than me,” he finishes in a broken, far-away whisper, eyes screaming in their sockets, not leaving mine.
I open my mouth to say something, but I realise that words would only burden what I’m trying to say with padded-out phrases and letters that would dilute the strength of any meaning.
Gerard mistakes my silence, his eyes clouding with realization and horror. "I didn't mean to say that," he blinks, the honesty in his eyes instantly withdrawn as he fumbles to hide behind his dishevelled black hair and his emerald shuts down, going grey with defiance, like he feels he’s said too much- exposed too much, and now he's scared of my reaction.
"Sorry," he says wildly, pushing trembling, pale fingertips up to his skull as though he's trying to hold himself together, shuffling away from me on the sofa; recoiling back into his dark, moody silence.
“What are you apologising for?” I blurt, finally managing to find my words.
Gerard looks at me for a long, lost moment; a cold, flawless masterpiece with the colours running to create an entirely different portrait.
“For being real,” he whispers eventually, his eyes glittering with broken up pain.
And then I want to hug him and tell him that’s the last thing he needs to apologise for; I want all the thoughts and tangled up feelings and everything inside of me to come tumbling out; I want to feel his vulnerable, wounded arms round me and feel the warmth of smoky, tear-stained breath on my neck; I want the one person who might just understand, who might be just as broken; I want Gerard, and I want him to know that- but before I can do pr say anything, Mikey appears in the doorway, teeth chattering, hair wet from the shower.
Gerard jumps and hides even further away behind his mass of dark hair, biting furiously at his nails as he turns to look up at his younger brother’s entrance, and I’m left to wonder just exactly what I would have done; how far I would have gone to reassure this shattered, shadowed being who has an inexplicable hold over me.
Sure, I can push the truth to the back of my mind for now and deny it- but it's getting harder and harder to ignore, because denial is snow and the snow is slowly starting to melt.
Well, what d'you think of that? Thoughts on the chapter would be verily much appreciated, as I'm a little anxious to see what you think with it being so long since I've updated, and all the change in the storyline. Am I pulling it off okay? Please rate and review and let me know...?
Thanks so much for reading, and once again, my deepest apologies for the wait- I really will update within a week to make up for it. Feedback would be brilliant...I really hope you enjoyed this chapter...I've missed you guys! Love you all :'D