The thing is, when you've broken, nothing changes.
I'd like to dedicate this chapter to all you guys who've been so wonderfully supportive of me, I couldn't done it without you. And most especially, to Xyphine Rocha. Thank you, honey. xo
Chapter Thirty Two
The familiar thick, hot taste of blood smothers my senses, only partially diluted by the sleety rain that shudders down around me in bitter sheets of grey. It soaks through the worn fabric of my black hoodie and stings my exposed skin as I sit helplessly on the cold, hard concrete of the wall outside school, like broken up bits of shrapnel falling from the bruised steel clouds overhead. I can hear distantly hear weary tyres and endless headlamps, the rush of the city in the distance, but the air around me is silent, bitter in the dwindling light. The bleak yard behind me is deserted, and there are only a handful of lights left on in the building; it’s after an hour since the final bell went.
My hands are turning red and raw from the icy sleet soaking through me as I try to mop the worst from my face with my muddy PE shirt. The blood feels disconcertingly hot and gushing against my cold skin, watered down with the rain and dribbling off my fingertips as it plasters my already damp hair to my face, hiding the truth. I should be at home now, in my dingy, stale room with the TV on even though I have no intention of paying attention to whatever programme is on, but instead, I’ve served the past half an hour as Danny’s personal punch-bag, curled up on the cold, unforgiving floor of the boys locker room, trying not to cry out.
I spit blood bitterly into the grimy gutter, wincing angrily as the movement makes my freshly bruised ribs burn.
It’s been two weeks since Mikey bandaged my bloodied hand with his school tie and led me gently from the wreckage of the bathroom to the nurse’s office. And in those two weeks, my life has smudged back into lonely, grey insignificance once more. Things have reverted almost exactly to how they were before Steve announced that his two sons were coming to live with us, only it’s somehow even worse now than it was then. I could bear it then- maybe solely because I couldn’t remember what life was like outside it.
But then I was been reminded; violently, beautifully- in a way I never thought I would be. And I can’t forget it. Now I can’t bear it, because deep down, I think there’s a little part of me that never thought I’d have to come back here.
Yet here I am.
It’s Wednesday and I’m sitting alone on the damp school wall, the fraying wool of my fingerless gloves harsh and damp against my raw hands as I try my best to wipe away the remaining traces of blood. The bruises are burning my cold skin, the sleety sheets of rain stinging my skin and the freshly inflicted cuts, and Danny’s mocking voice is still making my head ring. It’s as if the past month never even happened.
Maybe I wish that it hadn’t.
With a sigh that gusts out of me in a translucent cloud of bitterness, I staunch the diminishing flow of blood from my nose and stow my PE shirt back in my worn schoolbag, hands numb from the icy dusk that pours down around me, fumbling with the zip. It’s only just after four thirty, but the sky above me is already helplessly, unflinchingly grey, its bitter dusk heavy and tired on my defeated shoulders, as though it could never have held something so light as a moment of snowflakes.
The icy wind buffets against me in a particularly bitter drenching of sleet, and I wearily struggle to my feet, wincing as the biting winter wind stings my raw face and my ribs ache heavily under the weight of bruises and shame. I pull my hood more securely around my head and start off down the bleak pavement. The street is sickeningly familiar, and seems more endless than ever in the pouring frozen rain and the beginnings of the harsh streetlamps’ pale light that cruelly illuminates each droplet. My feet are numb in my soggy converse trainers from the slushy puddles that gather in the cracks of the pavement, and my lungs start to ache from the sharpness of the cold, but I truly can’t bring myself to care.
Time melts away into meaningless needles of frozen rain, and I just let the depthless winter city lights slur past me, greasy yellow headlamps amidst the incessant grind of tyres reaching out through the murky sleet like forgotten SOS signals. The rain lashes bitterly against my face as I walk, goading me with its easy tears, making my throat ache with the shame I’m too proud to shed.
The thing is, when you’ve broken, nothing changes. It’s not like doing so somehow makes everything better again, because when you’ve pulled all the glass fragments from your blood, the reality’s still there. Inescapable. Inevitable. You can’t stay broken- you can’t survive that way. So you do the only thing you can. Block it all out, let it go numb around you until you can almost kid yourself it’s not even a part of you. Until it’s just a timeless grey blur of cold city roads and hostile corridors that remain unbending under my helpless feet.
Since that fateful day in the smashed-up boys bathroom, it’s been two weeks of drifting numbly from home to school in the raw December rain; two weeks of truly not having the energy to care when Danny corners me; two weeks of hiding my cuts and bruises from everyone again; two weeks of desperately trying to ignore the half-hearted insults that Gerard throws flimsily at me whenever there are other people around. He never quite meets my eyes, though, and I don’t look at him either. If I don’t, I can almost kid myself that he’s not the same person who kissed me under the soft, lamplit snowflakes and held me fiercely in the dark, as though he already knew that once he let go, he couldn’t come back.
I can almost kid myself I don’t care anymore- or sometimes even that I never did.
But as I walk helplessly along the lonely, colourless routes lit only by the starless light of the streetlamps that dull the thick grey city fug- routes I’ve walked so many times before with aching feet and weary thoughts- I can’t kid myself that it’s any easier than it was in the debris of the boys’ bathroom two weeks ago. For a while, I at least had Mikey- but from being the one putting on a brave face and insisting we carry on as normal, he’d been missing school more and more as Gerard has spiralled further and further down into gaudy self-destruction. These last few days, he’s just stayed holed up in our room, pale-faced and anxious, watching the sleety rain lash mercilessly against the windowpane as the city sinks deeper into the bleakness of December. I miss his mousy, quiet yet inexplicably reassuring presence more than I can express.
Without him, there’s nothing left to tempt me to hope that things might just still be able to turn out okay. Instead, it’s all painfully, bleakly real, and I can no longer ignore the agonisingly obvious fact that Gerard is crumbling; that he has been since the night of the party. When I remember it, it’s a roulette of Jeremy’s dangerous eyes; the taste of cheap alcohol hurting my stomach like the butterflies; the exhilarating rush of cold air as I ran away from Mikey’s words; the pure, beautiful snowflakes that floated tentatively down from the sky; and then the ugly, almost black bubbles of blood skewering Gerard’s damaged skin together, glistening sickeningly under the yellow spill of the streetlamp and the horror reflected in Steve and Mikey’s eyes.
It almost seems like part of a different life now; a story that belongs to someone else altogether. A story whose ending turned every one of us included into different people. Mikey and Steve have distorted into pale, anxious shadows of their former selves, with dark circles under their sleepless bloodshot eyes.
But Gerard’s changed almost beyond recognition. Sometimes, I’m not even sure the Gerard who clung to me in the vulnerable dusk of the graveyard is still alive in there.
Or if he is, the present Gerard is slowly and effectively destroying him. Every night, he stumbles drunkenly into the hallway when everyone should be asleep, but the lights are still blazing and Mikey has gnawed his nails down to the hangnail with anxiety. His words are always slurred into nonsense, eyeliner smeared across his face, clothes torn. But that’s not the worst thing. He never comes home with bruises and blood like I do, but he’s constantly on edge, skittish and jumpy like there’s something constantly behind him he’s trying desperately to see but can’t. His hands tremble as he picks at his untouched food at mealtimes, his mouth is stitched into a thin line of terrified silence, and whenever I accidentally find myself snagged on his glance if we pass each other alone in the landing or in a deserted school corridor under flickery lights, I can see with painstaking obscenity, the bruises, the cuts, the blood, all swirling green in the morgue of his eyes.
And I can’t bear it.
It makes me want to curl up and cry, makes me want to reach out and pull him close, all lonely smoke and vulnerability. But I can’t.
I can’t ever do that again, and instead of making me want to scream until my lungs bleed, that knowledge just makes me numb, because I know there’s no point to anything anymore. I just have to bear it all.
I sniff furiously, the icy lash of rain stinging me back into the irrepressibly bleak trek home. I wipe my gloved hand angrily across my face, making my wounds smart horribly. My feet fumble on the cracks in the pavement that leer up at me through the stained slush of the sleet that’s gathered like ugly, frozen tears, and my hands are red with cold, stripped raw by the icy air that hisses alongside me, burning my ears with a hundred stinging truths. I stuff them into my damp pockets, shuddering. My feet are throbbing from the cold, but I can’t bring myself to care. I just keep walking, eyelashes filmed with the colourless rain that lashes down from the bleak dusk.
I’m nearly at the end of the main road when I become distantly aware of a car slowing down beside me, and then Steve’s voice percolates the sleet and pollution, making me turn around wearily, smarting eyes instantly stung by the blinding glare of the car’s headlamps that slice through the grey.
“Frank!” Steve calls again, winding the window down further and leaning out into the frozen rain. “Get in out of the cold, I’ll give you a lift the rest of the way!”
I hesitate, swallowing and shivering in my damp hoodie as I hurriedly make sure my hair is concealing the new damage to my face.
“Come on!” Steve gestures impatiently as a car behind him honks impatiently.
I don’t particularly want to be stuck alone with Steve, even if it’s only for five minutes, but I can’t be bothered protesting, so I drag myself towards the car, sidestepping an overflowing puddle of cold grime in the gutter and slipping into the passenger seat, out of the bitter, stinging teeth of the withered dusk into the airless heating of the car. It suddenly hits me with a horrible blow to the stomach that takes away all my breath that the last time I was in this car was on the way home from the fateful corner.
Struggling not to be engulfed by memories of the agonisingly silent ride home, I swallow hard, hands trembling as I fumble with my wet schoolbag and pull the door shut against the harsh rain.
“Okay?” Steve says gently, pulling out into the traffic as I focus on my clasped, frozen hands in my lap, nausea welling up in the pit of my stomach. I nod wordlessly, trying to focus my attention anywhere but the memories that are swirling round my skull, ragged and ugly; a murder of crows.
The radio buzzes dully over the drone of the engine, something shallow and poppy filtering out of the speakers, and the rain batters heavily against the windscreen, forcing Steve to put the wipers onto full and squint anxiously out into the darkening roads alight with a hundred murky headlamps. I try desperately to focus on any of these aspects of the ride home, but in the end, the only thing smothering my mind is the painfully vivid memory of Gerard’s green eyes in the darkness of the silent car, looking right through me as though I didn’t exist, when not even an hour before, they’d been the reason I did.
“So, how was your day?” Steve’s voice brings me back into the present, and I jump slightly, cheeks burning from the memories that had absorbed me. I hastily look out at the darkening streets blurring past us in headlamps and sleet, making sure my damp hair is covering the fresh injuries contaminating my face as I shrug.
“Frank?” Steve repeats, and I can feel his eyes on me, wanting an answer.
“It was fine,” I mumble quietly, the few syllables grating my vocal chords. I haven’t been doing a lot of speaking lately; silence is easier, and in any case, I don’t have anything left I want to say. What’s the point when they only person I need to hear isn’t listening anymore?
There’s a silence that has the distinct feel of an unfinished conversation as Steve grinds to a halt for some traffic lights outside the local supermarket. I shift uncomfortably in my seat, anxiety knotting my stomach and making it difficult to swallow all the unsaid words.
“H-how was your day?” I mumble eventually, in the vain hope that conversation might erase the reel of memories playing painfully realistically inside my skull.
Steve lets out a long sigh as we turn off the roundabout. “Oh, you know,” he says tiredly. “I…I wish I knew what to do, Frank. I got another call from your school today, saying that Gerard had set fire to his textbook in Biology, started a fight with some boys from your year, and walked right out of the school with several bottles of wine from the staff common room.”
I swallow and close my eyes, glad my expression is hidden behind my hair. I know that Gerard doesn’t start fights.
“Did they say why?” I manage, through gritted teeth. There’s a knot forming in my stomach, so painful I have to breathe shallowly.
“Something about his artwork getting stolen from his coursework,” Steve sighs, glancing at me. “You…you wouldn’t have any idea what to do about it, would you Frank?”
“About Gerard,” Steve says quietly, slowing down for another set of traffic lights.
I stay silent and as still as possible, heart thudding in my chest.
“Do…do you have any idea what might help him, Frank?”
“Why the hell are you asking me?” I spit abruptly, unable to contain myself any longer. My hands are shaking as I clench them furiously together, determinedly not looking at Steve. The words from my mouth sound angry and sharp in the airless heat of the car’s interior, but inside I just feel empty and sad.
“Because…well, I thought you two got along for a while,” Steve replies timidly, releasing the handbrake as the lights fade from amber to green.
“Well, you’re wrong,” I snap angrily, teeth gritted around the words. “He’s hated me from the beginning, isn’t that clear enough?”
“I just thought…” Steve breaks off, shaking his head as we turn off the main road and into the darker outskirts. “Never mind.”
We drive in silence for the next few streets, the sleet against the car windscreen an ellipsis of all the things I’m waiting to be said. Short, sharp words that will remind of all the things I desperately want to forget. I twist my fingers nervously together, jaw clenched so tightly my neck starts to hurt as I force myself to stare out of the window.
“Frank, I’d just like you to know…” Steve’s voice breaks the silence as we turn into our neighbourhood, windscreen wipers battling against the thickening sleet.
“What?” I demand defensively, jaw still clenched in the effort of suppressing salt.
“I didn’t mean to upset you at all. I know I shouldn’t have asked you that, and I just wanted to say that…well, I’m really proud of you,” he blurts, and I blink, turning to look at him properly for the first time since I got into the car.
“You- what?” I frown, utterly taken-aback.
Steve meets my gaze briefly, his hazel eyes so much like Mikey’s; unsure, but full of sincerity. “For going into school these past couple of weeks. I know I don’t quite know what’s going on with you right now, Frank, but it’s easy enough to see how unhappy you are. I know school’s something that isn’t easy for you anyway, so to have continued going in when you’re clearly having a really hard time- well, it takes real guts,” Steve finishes, his voice full of warmth. He’s eyeing me nervously, as though he’s not quite sure whether I’m going to shout at him again or not.
I duck my head, emptiness filling my chest like cold water. The truth is, it’s taken no guts at all. I truly don’t care what happens to me anymore, therefore school is irrelevant. It’s just something to do, and I can’t quite bring myself to stop. It’s become almost like some kind of addictive self-punishment.
“I wish you’d tell me what you’re not, Frank,” Steve says suddenly, eyes piercing mine surprisingly, making me swallow uncomfortably and duck my head further, fiddling with the fraying wool of my fingerless gloves that are still damp and slightly bloody from my walk from school.
“I don’t expect you to, don’t worry. I just wish I could understand what’s happening,” Steve sighs as we start up our road. The dusk is thicker than ever, the rain pouring down the car windows, and I’m still alone. “Because I honestly thought it was starting to go okay, didn’t you?”
I have to look at Steve then, although it hurts to meet his eyes. “Yes,” I say very quietly, looking away. “Yeah, I did too.” I swallow painfully.
Then we’re grinding to a halt outside the house and the car is silent again. I think Steve is going to say something else about it, but he suddenly squints out of the window down the road and says, turning back to me; “I think you have a visitor.”
Involuntarily, I feel my heart leap in hope with the subconscious hope of the unrealistic- but when I whip round and squint out through the bitter dusk and sleety rain drenching the dusk of the street, the silhouetted approaching figure is too feminine, too real. My heart sinks slowly, irretrievable like a stone into black water.
“Frank? Aren’t you going to go and speak to her?” Steve probes gently. I suddenly realise he’s turned the engine off and unbuckled his seatbelt, and we’re both sitting in the silence of the dark interior of the car, rain flooding down the windscreen.
I nod wordlessly, resigning myself as I get out of the silent, memory-swathed car, the pouring, icy rain stinging my skin and making my heart beat faster. Reluctantly, I pull my hood up and slowly trudge down the street to meet her, leaving Steve to lock up the car and go inside. The street is oddly silent in the cold, ugly glow of the steetlamps that illuminate the sleet slicing through the murky grey dusk.
Ocean is racing up the road towards me, hood up, blue hair curling in the incessant rain. Something sinks in the pit of my stomach, but I wait until she grinds to a half in front of me, panting and massaging her side. She’s still in her school uniform, cheeks stung red from the wind, tie askew with the different coloured safety pins we decorated it with in the summer. My chest suddenly hurts as I look at them, heavy and raw.
“Hi,” I say quietly, not really sure what I want to say. I pull my gloves further down over my numb fingers, shivering.
“I’ve been trying to talk to you since the party!” Ocean exclaims, disregarding my greeting completely. She sweeps her bedraggled hair out of her eyes and sticks her hands in the pockets of her skull-and-crossbones hoodie as she looks at me accusingly. “Why haven’t you been picking up your phone? I know we haven’t spoken that much recently anyway, but I didn’t think things were that bad.”
“I- I’ve just been busy,” I mumble weakly, eyes on the sleety ground. Behind me, I hear Steve locking the car and walking up the overgrown garden path, leaving me and Ocean alone on the desolate, windswept street in the pouring December dusk. The light of the streetlamp behind us suddenly seems colder than ever.
“For two weeks straight?” Ocean raises her eyebrows sceptically.
I duck my head uncomfortably. “Yeah.”
“Frankie, what’s that on your eye?” Ocean’s voice is suddenly sharp.
“Nothing,” I mumble, taking a step back.
“Frank!” Ocean reaches out swiftly and sweeps my bedraggled hair out of my face, letting the sleet fall freely and icily onto my exposed skin. Shame burns my cheeks along with its coldness, and I can’t hold Ocean’s agonised gaze. I stare numbly at the gutter, watching the cold, grey water gurgling into it from the harsh concrete, murky with pollution and tired footsteps.
“Why didn’t you tell me it was still happening?” Ocean’s voice is surprisingly soft. “It’s the same guys, right?”
“Yeah. But it doesn’t matter, Ocean,” I mutter, backing away from her slightly so my damp, tousled fringe falls comfortingly back over my eyes.
“Matter?” Ocean exclaims incredulously. “Of course it matters, you idiot!”
“I really don’t care about it anymore,” I say honestly, ducking my head.
“Why the fuck not?” Ocean sounds angry, but I can’t bring myself to look at her.
“It just doesn’t matter, okay?” I glance up at her defensively, shoving my hands in the pockets of my hoodie and glaring with as much anger as I can muster up, but it feels as though with the slightest crack, the façade will smash completely.
She looks like she’s about to reply, but her expression suddenly changes; she’s looking over my shoulders, eyes bright.
“Hey!” She calls out, voice loud in the deserted, windswept street, tucking her damp hair behind her ears and waving, a silly little smile plastered across her face.
My heart plummets. I know who she’s waving at even before I whirl round and see him sloping unsteadily down the pavement in the pouring rain, black leather making the droplets of sleet bounce off him, eyeliner wobbly, pupils big and black and staring, smothering the remaining green. He stumbles to a halt when he sees us, unkempt hair swept into his face by a gust of wind and sleet. It no longer shines blue in the dull glow of the streetlamp overhead, just remains a dull, lifeless black.
My heart thuds so fast and fearfully it almost hurts, hot and alive in contradiction to the numbing sleet. I want to swallow, but my mouth is dry with a flurry of unuttered words. I want to run, but my legs are made of lead. I want to look away, but I’m lost in the empty black abyss of those eyes I barely recognise.
“Gerard!” Ocean’s cheerful voice shatters through me, and I’m suddenly hit by a wave of nausea. I force myself to look away, trembling, teeth gritted with the effort of enduring his presence. Even though I’m not looking at him, I can feel him all around me; dark and hollow and alone, curling like cancerous smoke through the frozen falling rain and paralysing me.
He stares blankly at us, eyes flickering with discomfort behind the strands of dishevelled raven hair. His stance is hunched and defensive, and he looks thinner than ever, the bones in his pale hands looking as though they could snap any minute, the black jeans that were once tightly fitted now faded and baggy around the knees.
I can’t stop looking at him, even though I desperately want to- but he doesn’t even glance at me. He doesn’t even seem to notice I’m there, or if he does, he doesn’t care.
“Hi, Ocean,” his voice is gruff and slightly slurred when he eventually speaks. I can hear the alcohol larded into the syllables and it tugs painfully at my chest, pulling so tight it makes my lungs hurt to draw a breath.
“Where are you off to?” Ocean presses, utterly oblivious.
“Out,” Gerard replies tonelessly, fumbling in his pocket and drawing out a slightly battered carton of cigarettes. His hands are shaking.
“Somewhere nice?” Ocean asks, smiling. I can almost see the wistful hope in her eyes, and it makes me grit my teeth bitterly in the rain, shivers of hurt wavering across my skin.
“Who cares,” Gerard laughs hollowly, flaring his lighter, a lonely little burst of flame in the frozen rain and taking a long drag of his cigarette. I watch it tremble between his long fingers, and try and quash the inexplicable emotion rising powerfully in my chest, tugging painfully at my core. “What about you?” he adds carelessly, almost as an afterthought.
“Oh, I’m just hanging out with Frank,” Ocean says presumptuously.
Gerard’s eyes falter slightly, the dark circles suddenly seeming more vivid than ever as his gazes flickers slightly in my direction, as though he’d only just realised I was even there. His eyes don’t come even close to mine before he looks away again, the bloodshot quality of his gaze illuminated harshly by the cold glow of the streetlamp.
“Well, I would say have fun,” he says roughly after a moment, taking another drag of his cigarette. “But with Freak Iero here I doubt that’ll happen.” His mouth curls up slightly in the appropriation of a sneer.
Hearing my spiked school nickname spoken in cold smoke from his lips makes something fracture in the core of my chest. I swallow furiously, hating myself for caring.
“See you around,” Gerard says gruffly, nodding at Ocean and stumbling past us down the pavement. He leaves a thin trail of smoke behind him like broken promises, doused by the bitter rain and the fragmented beat of my heart.
“I’m going too,” I say desperately, turning in the opposite direction, suddenly not being able to bear being in company a second longer. I can feel the hurt welling up in my chest, as salty, uncomfortably powerful anger that makes my eyes sting and goosebumps of disbelief erupt all down my spine. No matter how many times I’ve been forced to encounter this new, hollow Gerard over the past couple of weeks, I still can’t really quite believe it.
“Wait!” Ocean protests, dragging her wistful gaze away from Gerard’s retreating figure; a black silhouette becoming absorbed by the sleet and the darkness and its own emptiness. “You still haven’t told me where you’ve been these past couple weeks- I want to know.”
“I told you, I’ve been busy,” I snap, ducking my head and sniffing fiercely.
“Oh, come on,” Ocean snorts. “Seriously, Frank. I know you probably hate me right now, but I still have to ask you what’s wrong. I need to know, I care about you!”
“I’m okay, Ocean,” I insist, turning to go.
“Frankie, I know you!” Ocean cries, grabbing hold of my soaked hoodie and pulling me back. Her eyes are blazing behind the rain and layers of mascara, suddenly much more shrewd than I’d given her credit for. “I know you. We’ve been friends for like, ten fucking years. I know when you’re okay, and I know when you’re just putting on a brave face. But right now, you’re so far from okay it’s scaring me to death. Tell me what’s wrong, Frankie,” Ocean looks at me imploringly, eyelashes spiky with rain and desperation. “Please. I’m scared.”
I look at her in silence for several moments, my chest aching with hollowness in the pouring rain. I suddenly want to break down like I did two weeks ago, cling to Ocean and never let go and be alone again. But I just stay numb, staring at her in the rain.
“I am too,” I whisper, my voice breaking on the last syllable. The rain falls bitterly around us, shrivelled, ugly memories.
Ocean’s eyes blanch with compassion, and before I have time to step back and avoid it, she’s pulling me into a tight hug, warmth seeping through my sodden hoodie and numb skin, encasing me in everything I’ve been desperately trying to avoid. But I can’t bring myself to let go, so I just hang onto her until the rain sliding down my neck could be snowflakes.
I end up succumbing to Ocean’s persistence and agreeing to let her come in with me. There’s a little part of me that is grateful for the company now, even if it’s not the company I want. Once we’ve left our soaking hoodies and soggy shoes in the hall, I usher Ocean upstairs to choose a CD and get my crappy electric heater going, while I shuffle into the kitchen to make us both cups of hot tea, the pit of my stomach still numb from our encounter with Gerard.
I jump because the kitchen is half-dark and therefore, I hadn’t expected anyone to be in here. But Mikey is. He’s sitting at the kitchen table, still in his pyjamas; navy and blue tartan bottoms and an outsize Queen hoodie thrown over his t-shirt; and he’s clutching a half-drunk mug of coffee. His homework is piled around him on the surface of the table, but the pen beside it still has its lid on, and the textbook isn’t even open. I don’t bother asking him why he hasn’t turned the light on and is just sitting in the shadows with the sleet sliding sadly down the windowpane.
“Hey,” I say quietly instead, hesitating slightly
“Good day?” Mikey asks timidly. He raises the mug to his mouth, and I notice that all the nails on his left hand are bitten bloody and raw.
Something uncomfortable tugs at my stomach, making me swallow uncomfortably and wish I could do something to make it all better for Mikey, who is the last person in the world to deserve all the anxiety and grief. I consider his question for a second, not allowing myself to lie. Ever since he pieced me back together in the debris of the boys’ bathroom, I can’t bring myself to lie to Mikey.
“Not really. It was pretty shit,” I admit, shuffling my feet against the kitchen tiles. My socks are slightly damp from where the icy puddles soaked through my Converse, and I can’t feel my toes as the scrape against the tiling. I look up, although it hurts to look at Mikey these days. “What about yours?”
The smallest of smiles flickers across Mikey’s face. “Same,” he replies sadly, the corners of his mouth dipping down again. He sets down his coffee mug and pulls his knees protectively up to his chest, hair mousy and tousled round his glasses. “Did I hear your friend Ocean in the hall?”
“Yeah,” I mumble, flicking the kettle on and getting mugs out of the cupboard.
Mikey blinks, but doesn’t say anything as I fumble around the kitchen getting teabags and milk from the fridge. The noise of the kettle fills the tense silence and the half dark of the kitchen that brings all the shadows of doubt and worry out into the open.
“Do…do you want to join us?” I ask, somewhat half-heartedly as I pour the boiling water into the mugs and scoop out the teabags. I don’t expect him to agree; after all, Ocean has never exactly taken to Mikey, let alone remember his name, but I don’t want him to feel as alone as he looks right now, mousy and vulnerable with owlish glasses and bitten-down nails.
Mikey shakes his head slowly. “No, it’s okay.”
I nod silently, adding milk and sugar to the mugs. It’s the answer I expected, but I still feel a pang of guilt. “Okay.”
“Thanks, though,” Mikey says sincerely.
I smile wanly at him, the gesture uncomfortable on my face as I put the milk away and gather up the teas, making for the door.
I turn around, balancing the teas.
Mikey’s biting his lip, eyes suddenly anxious in the darkening kitchen as he surveys me closely. “Did…um…Did you see Gee on his way out?”
I bite back the instinctively defensive retort. “Yeah,” I mumble, pausing in the doorway. I look up, meeting Mikey’s innocent hazel eyes. “Why?”
“I’m sorry,” Mikey says quietly, eyes intent on mine. He doesn’t need to say anything else.
I nod wordlessly and leave him alone in the darkness of the kitchen with an unused pen and a pile of words that are no use to anyone.
“Thanks, Frankie,” Ocean says gratefully as I hand her the larger mug of tea and switch on my bedside lamp as I set my own down on the desk, pulling off my soaking school shirt and fraying tie to replace them with an old woollen jumper.
There’s a brief silence as we both sip our drinks and become marginally warmer.
“So,” Ocean says, cradling the steaming mug of tea in her hands. She looks up at me, her appearance made somehow softer by the way her usually straightened hair has curled into little damp blue ringlets and her eyes, expression, are smudged into softness by her faded eyeliner. “…You want to talk about it?”
“You sound like the most clichéd counsellor,” I smile weakly, sitting down wearily opposite her on the windowseat, knees pulled up to my chest for comfort and warmth. The rain drums against the glass behind me, the little black beads made invisible by the soft reflection of the lamp’s comforting glow. “Seriously, I thought you were better at this stuff.”
“You know full well I’m terrible at the serious stuff, Frank,” Ocean rolls her eyes, taking a sip of her steaming drink and shifting to sit cross-legged. She sets the mug- striped with a large chip out of the handle- down on my cluttered bedside table and pulls off her woollen fingerless gloves, looking at me seriously. “And that you’re the only person I’d make the effort to overcome that for. So please, just tell me what’s going on and spare me the terrible half-assed counsellor clichés.”
I manage a small smile, but it melts away from my face as quickly as snowflakes on concrete. “I just…can I not talk about it just yet?” I mumble round a gulp of tea, wanting to prolong the undeniable and painful truth for as long as possible.
I expect Ocean to get all impatient and tell me it’s better to deal with things straight away, but instead she just smiles and shrugs.
“Sure. Whenever you want, Frankie. Hey, in the meantime, let’s watch ‘The Lost Boys’ for old-times sake,” she says enthusiastically. Months back, before Mikey and Gerard came to stay and Ocean and I spent all our time together, it was our tradition to watch ‘The Lost Boys’ whenever one of us was having a bad day or feeling down. I’d almost forgotten that there were good times before I ever knew Gerard, and it makes me feel better to remember them.
“Okay,” I agree, smiling feebly.
“Great!” Ocean exclaims happily, leaping up off the bed. “I’ll get it set up.”
She finds the right disc in my jumbled stack of DVDs and slots it into the player.
“Man, I love this film,” Ocean sighs, settling back onto the bed as the theme tune starts up. “If only vampires were real. And as hot as Kiefer Sutherland.”
I roll my eyes. “Real vampires wouldn’t be hot at all. They’d rip your veins out.”
“Details, details,” Ocean waves a dismissive hand and shushes me when the opening scene begins.
I don’t expect to be able to concentrate on the film properly at all, but much to my surprise, after a few minutes, I’m absorbed in it, saying the lines we’ve learnt off by heart over the years along with Ocean. The soft glow of the TV is comforting, as is Ocean’s company and the warm, half-empty mug in my hands.
I almost manage to forget, but then the credits are rolling, and Ocean is looking at me again, eyes expectant.
The rain on the window behind me suddenly seems louder in the silence, the dead motes of dust motionless in the glow of the lamp, filtering out into the darkness around it. “I don’t even know where to…I don’t know what I want to say,” I blurt shakily, letting out a sigh that tugs unevenly at my lungs. My hand’s shaking slightly as I rake it nervously through my hair, the things I’ve tried to keep very much dead in my mind suddenly vivid and alive, as forceful as the rain battering the windowpane behind me.
“Is it because they’re hurting you at school still?”
“No, it’s not that,” I mumble honestly, subconsciously tracing the freshest and darkest bruise on my forearm.
“Well, it’s about Gerard then, right?” Ocean presses, uncharacteristically gentle. She takes a long gulp of tea as she awaits my answer.
Thoughts flit in and out of my mind, swirling round each other like a murder of crows in the midst of my mind. They’re black and ragged, ugly, unwanted, but whenever their feathers catch the light, they shine brilliant, beautiful blue out of the blackness.
“I…” I break off, shaking my head helplessly. “It’s no use, Ocean, what’s the point of even saying? It won’t change anything.” I look at her, my chest suddenly weighed down heavily by all the dead black feathers that make my heart feel lonely in its dark socket. I fiddle with the fraying sleeve of my hoodie, not meeting her eyes.
“You don’t know that,” Ocean says quietly. Downstairs, I hear the front door bang, and something in my heart tears. Voices follow it, loud and uncontrolled, escalating through the house, making it sound emptier than ever. I imagine Gerard downstairs, make-up smudged, hands shaky, pupils dilated in cemetery of those green eyes that I’ll always mourn the death of. I imagine him downstairs, crumbling, with no one to catch him. I imagine him downstairs, unfixable.
“I can’t help it, I….” I choke on the words before they’re even in my mouth.
“You what?” Ocean probes gently. The silence rages on, rain lashing against the dark glass outside as the voices lash against the walls downstairs.
My heart’s thudding in my chest as I clear my throat, trying to manage the words.
“I just…I love him, Ocean.” I manage eventually. I swallow. “I love him.”
The silence rages on, rain lashing against the dark glass, cold and ugly like bullets of denial. My chest feels oddly empty, now that the words that I’ve kept entombed inside its dark caverns for weeks on end have been let out, syllables tattooing the dim light around us. I can’t erase them now.
I’m not sure I ever could have done, anyway. Or even that I would want to now.
Maybe I just wish that they’d never been there in the first place.
I can’t bring myself to look at Ocean. Instead I focus on the relentless rhythm of the December rain against the dark glass behind me, listening to it pour down on the grey of the city, washing away what little colour it was holding onto. My cheeks are burning- with shame or relief, I’m not sure which- and my heart’s thudding fiercely in my chest, louder than the downpour outside in the darkness.
“Oh, Frankie.” Ocean’s voice makes me jump slightly, even though it’s so quiet it’s barely audible over the patter against the windowpane and the raised voices leaking up through the floorboards, rain falling the wrong way. She doesn’t sound pitying or shocked, like I was expecting- or even just amused. Instead, her voice is filled with an uncharacteristic and simple kindness.
I suddenly have to swallow fiercely at the lump that’s invading my throat, and force myself to look up at her nervously through the strands of hair that cover my face, still slightly damp from the walk home.
She’s looking right back at me, green eyes that are so different to the ones I need. Hers are kind, misunderstanding, not lonely and misunderstood, reflecting the snowy sky.
“Frankie…” she trails off, but her eyes don’t leave mine. Unlike Gerard’s gaze, I feel hidden and secure under hers. She can’t see too far beneath my skin. Gerard can look and see it all, and then just throw it away.
I swallow again and turn away, eyes watching the glistening black droplets dribbling down the window beside me. There’s a long silence. I close my eyes and count the new bruises I can still feel making my limbs ache. Bruises that don’t even matter. They don’t even hurt. Blood blossoming purple under damaged layers of tissue don’t hurt. Nothing does. Nothing apart from having Gerard look right through me as if I’m as worthless as I’d always believed.
I could bear it just fine if that’s how he’d always looked at me. But when I accidentally find myself caught on those empty eyes now, all they do is reflect the past that I can’t bring myself to forget. And I can see, painfully clearly, the way he looked at me that night I rescued him from the nightclub and sung him to sleep, the hours I spent sitting beside him in the wild darkness of the graveyard, the moment of snowflakes…Even though I had to look under all the rough layers, I can remember it so clearly; the gratitude, the trust, the smiles, the l-
I jump slightly as I feel an arm slip round me, and the familiar scent of Ocean’s jasmine perfume reassures me, bringing me crashing back into the bleakness of the staleness of my unorganised room where it’s dark and cold and lonely and the night’s howling outside. Her embrace is so wrong; too soft and sweet and simple.
“It’ll be okay,” she says quietly, breath brushing my hair, but I can hear the uncertainty in her voice and I know she’s being too kind.
I know it can’t ever be now.
Ocean leaves just after nine; despite having been invited to stay for dinner by a harassed looking Mom who pops into my room briefly when the shouting downstairs has ceased slightly to tell me that food’s ready.
From having desperately wanted to avoid her, now that I’ve confided in her, there’s a part of me that really doesn’t want Ocean to leave. She didn’t say much after I told her, and I didn’t either. We just sat in sad silence on the windowseat, her arm round my shoulders, huddled up together like old times when everything was so much easier, until Mom came and knocked on my door. It wasn’t an awkward silence, because there was nothing to say. It was just safe, comforting, prolonging the moment when I’d have to face up to reality again.
I stand at the front door staring out into the sleet and the darkness long after Ocean’s figure has disappeared from sight before I reluctantly shut it and trail into the kitchen, stomach far too knotted up to want any food at all.
When I enter the kitchen, it contorts fiercely, and my heart is punctured to a halt.
Steve’s sitting in his usual seat, expression grey and weary. Mom is dishing out leek and potato pie. Mikey is sitting tensely in his seat, twiddling his fingers.
And Gerard is sitting unsteadily in the seat I’ve become accustomed to seeing empty over the past couple of weeks, a startlingly real full stop of black punctuating the atmosphere of the room. He’s staring emptily at the plate in front of him, pupils blacker than ever, ugly mirrors reflecting my own misery. His face is even paler than it looked earlier today, hidden behind dishevelled black hair, and under the table I can see him clutching a half-drunk bottle of vodka with trembling hands.
I feel as though my lungs are useless. My heart’s beating so fast I feel sick, dizzy, lost. I want to turn around and run, but they’ve all seen me now, apart from Gerard himself who’s tracing wobbly circles on the tabletop with a shaky finger, frayed hair falling across his line of vision.
If it wasn’t for the smallest of smiles Mikey shoots me, I think I would have made a break for it. But it’s such an innocent, sadly reassuring kind of smile that I can’t bring myself to betray it. Feeling half as though I’m part of some kind of nightmare, I shakily make my way to my seat and sit down opposite Gerard.
He doesn’t even falter, not even when Steve says “Hello, Frank.” He doesn’t seem aware of my presence at all- but maybe he’s not really aware of anybody’s presence. He looks lost in his own world of alcohol and late nights and self-destruction.
“Pie, honey?” Mom asks gently, making me jump. I don’t respond, but she serves me some anyway before sitting down herself.
The deafeningly silent clink of knives and forks is excruciating.
Gerard doesn’t even pick up his knife and fork. They lay, useless, by his untouched plate as he continues to trace his index finger in uneven circles on the tabletop, sometimes overbalancing slightly and having to catch himself on the side of the table. I can taste the smoke and alcohol from his tired breaths that ruffle his already messy hair, and I know from their potency that they’re more important than a pulse to him these days. I haven’t been so close to him since that night, and I hadn’t fully realised the extent to which he had fallen. It’s really like he’s not there anymore, and it hurts my heart more than I can bear to watch him looking so dead when I know he’s really alive.
Or maybe he’s not anymore.
“Isn’t it nice to sit down all together?” Steve says hesitantly, putting down his knife and looking anxiously up at us all.
Neither Mikey nor I say anything, but Gerard lets out a hollow little laugh without looking up at all. The sound is bleak and mirthless, and it makes my blood go numb in my veins.
“Look, I know today hasn’t been great for any of us,” Steve starts nervously, taking an unnecessarily large gulp of water and setting down his knife and fork. “But I’m hoping tomorrow will change that. I had another call from the school today, after the first one.” He glances at Gerard who doesn’t act as though anyone’s said anything. “Well, anyway, Mr. Hallow is back from his break, so you boys have your lessons as usual tomorrow second lesson.”
Panic hits me like a wall. I hear an unmusical clatter, and dimly realise that I’ve dropped my knife and fork onto my plate. Breathing is suddenly painful, making my lungs sear and my stomach twist as I stare at Steve, horror filling up my blood.
“I’m not going,” Gerard doesn’t sound defiant the way I would have expected. He sounds almost scared, desperate like I feel. “No fucking way.” His voice is rusty, as though he’s not used to using it, but it’s painstakingly clear.
“Language, Gerard,” Steve says tiredly, setting down his glass. “And yes, you are. Mr. Hallow is really determined about you, he thinks you’re really talented, and he’s prepared to put all this attitude aside and give you another chance. This is your last chance to make some effort here, Gerard.”
“I’m not fucking going!” Gerard says, louder this time. He’s clenched his trembling hands into fists and is staring furiously at Steve, breathing fast. I can see the same panic that’s choking me colouring the lifeless pallor of his cheeks.
“Well, I’m afraid you are- unless you want to go back to live with your mother, Gerard. I can’t take anymore of this destructive behaviour. I need you to do at least something in the right direction, to show you’re willing.” Steve says firmly.
“You can’t send me back!” Gerard cries wildly, knocking his glass to the floor with a smash. He doesn’t seem to notice, just stares at Steve in horror.
“Dad…” Mikey cuts in, eyes imploring and agonised, but Steve carefully avoids them, staring down at his unfinished meal.
“I don’t want to do that either, Gerard, but your behaviour is becoming completely unacceptable. I don’t know what else to do,” Steve says desperately. “It’s just one lesson. Half an hour, just to show you’re willing to give life here a bit of effort.”
“I won’t go, I can’t,” Gerard blurts uncontrollably.
“Well if you don’t, I mean what I said about sending you back to live with your mother,” Steve says quietly but firmly.
Gerard stands up, swaying dangerously.
“I’m going out,” he slurs, stumbling past Steve’s chair and towards the door.
“You can’t go out like this, Gee!” Mikey cries desperately. “You’re drunk.”
“I’m aware. And I intend to get much drunker,” Gerard shouts. He falls out into the hall. There’s a loud crash, and then the front door slams shut, leaving the silence alone to fester into horrible possibilities.
I toss and turn restlessly for hours after Mikey and I retreat to bed when it becomes clear Gerard won’t be home anytime soon. Mikey’s soft, slightly snuffling breaths from the corner mean he’s finally fallen asleep, but I can’t.
Anxiety curdles my blood, knotting my stomach into crippling spasms and my lungs into ugly breathlessness. The cold, heavy dread weighing dangerously on my ribs at the thought of having to spend half an hour with Gerard in a confined room tomorrow, as well as having to play music for the first time since everything fell apart; having to accept reality. Music is what makes things real; without it, I can pretend. With it, I won’t be able to kid myself anymore.
But here in the dark, I can’t either. The frozen rain battling against the windowpane, the ugly hiss of my thoughts, the soft sounds of Mikey sleeping are the music, and I can’t fool even the darkness that I’m terrified that Gerard isn’t okay, wherever he is, whatever- or whoever- he’s doing.
I’ve spent the past two weeks trying to convince myself I don’t care, when the truth is, I care so much it physically hurts.
The anxiety churning sickeningly through my system convinces me that something’s happened to him, that he’s not going to come back, that there won’t be any clumsy drunken fumble of keys in the door no matter how long I lie awake willing him to come home just so I know he’s safe. I can’t imagine what life would be like without him now, whether it’s to make it worthwhile or to make it a living hell.
I realise then, I can learn not to care what he thinks of me, but no matter which Gerard he is; the defensive angry one, the vulnerable one that I can sing to sleep, the one in the graveyard who let me read him like a book, the floury, giggling one that helped me make mince pies, the scared, beautiful, blazing one that kissed me under the snowy skyline, the drunk, empty one; I can’t live without him. I could bear being hated and ignored by him for the rest of my life as long as he’s there, alive and safe and real.
The music of the night mocks taunts me; the sleet still pouring down outside, lashing fiercely against the window sounds deceptively like footsteps or keys in the front door downstairs. I bite my lip furiously every time my heart leaps hopefully, swallowing angrily at the salty lump of anxiety that’s choking my throat so that it’s difficult to breathe.
Almost every night other than this I’d be able to hear Gerard and Steve’s raised voices downstairs, blazing like the lights that should have been extinguished. They’re always muffled by the walls separating us, like my bruises by the material of my pyjama t-shirt. I’ll count them as Gerard’s voice spirals up, out of control into expletive destruction. Tiny little purple butterflies. Gross blots of ink. Heavy stains of shame. My skin is startlingly pale around them, showing up their ugliness like words on a page.
I usually reach at least twenty before the shouting downstairs explodes into nothingness and Gerard’s bedroom door slams upstairs moments later.
But tonight, the house is silent. There are no voices, not even Mom and Steve’s. My bruises fade away meaninglessly, wisps of violence, until there’s just uncountable blankness stretching on and on into the darkness. Mikey’s soft breathing, the rain taunting the windowpane, and me. Silence prevails, mocking the darkness in which my thoughts escalate uncomfortably and I start to feel sick from anxiety.
My adrenaline keeps me wide awake and terrified, until I have to sit up in my bed and clutch my knees to my chest, trying frantically to gulp for air as the salty lump in my throat prevents me from drawing a proper breath.
The night goes on and on and on, ugly, bleak, terrifying. I don’t know how long my eyes stay wide open, listening for the impossible sound of the front door opening. The increasingly scary thoughts swim faster and faster round my skull, making it throb with tiredness as my stomach clenches with increasing anxiety, my hands clammy and cold in the darkness of my room.
I sit numbly up in my bed for what feels like eternity, waiting, waiting, waiting until it feels like it’ll never happen.
By the time the front door really does unlock downstairs and someone falls into the shoe rack, I’m long past stomach aches and panic attacks and breakdowns and insomnia. My heart stops in disbelief, my ears straining for several minutes in the darkness to hear the accompanying sounds of Gerard swearing and then the creak of the stairs as he stumbles up them, confirming his return.
Only when I hear the bathroom door slam shut and the faint sound of retching do I allow myself to slump back into my bed, letting out a long, shuddery breath as the tears dribble hotly down my cheeks in the dark and soak my pillow with ashamed relief.
I'm unbelievably nervous about putting this chapter up after so long! I really hope you guys didn't find it too bad. Please, please drop me a rate/review to let me know your thoughts, it'd mean so much. I worked really hard on this, and if it hadn't been for you guys, I don't think it'd be here. I'll update a LOT sooner this time, okay? I've already started work on the next chapter, and oh, it's a big one! One final thing before I stop boring you guys: To keep you all posted on updates and stuff like that without having to constantly post notes on FicWad, I've created a Twitter account specially for my stories. Please follow it, and feel free to ask me any questions you want- I'll promise to reply to them all! i'd love to hear from you guys c: https://twitter.com/_CosmicZombie_
Okay, I'll be off now. Massive, massive thanks to all you guys out there who've been patient and supportive. I hope it's paid off, 'cause you're all just fucking amazing. I can't wait to let you all read the next chapter! Please let me know how I did with this one, what you liked/didn't like ect c: Reviews would honestly make my day so much, you have no idea :'D Love you all, so bloody much!