Authors: Suki Fleet
Finally his eyes focused on my face. It was hard to tell in artificial light, but his lips looked tinged with blue.
“Should I call an ambulance?” I said slowly.
If he didn’t answer me in the next ten seconds, I was calling one anyway.
Shaking his head, he brought the inhaler up to his mouth again and took another gasping breath. “This… needs a minute… to work…,” he gasped.
I had to trust him, but sitting with Thomas as his lungs stopped spasming was possibly the scariest few minutes I’ve ever spent with anyone. Embarrassingly, I began to see the rhythmic motion of my hands stroking his legs was more for me than for him, and slowly I stopped and sat back on my heels. My hands were tingling.
“Would a glass of water help?” I asked when I could see a little of his normal color returning.
“Stay… with me,” he pleaded, shaking his head.
I nodded, tried to smile, all the while utterly confused by the protective surge rushing through me, making me want to say things I would never say, like
. Making me want to do things like put my arm around him and pull him close.
The world fell silent, Thomas’s breathing the loudest sound for miles. Up here, at the top of the tower block, it was mostly always quiet, apart from when the wind grew wild and buffeted against the walls and I could imagine being in the narrow eye of a hurricane.
Pulling myself up off the floor, I sat on the crappy sofa cushion next to him, not talking, just being there. My fingers grazed a tear in the fabric of the seat, pulled at the threads. It was hard to admit, but I liked just being there, even though I felt like a traitor to myself. I didn’t want to think about why Thomas had come here. I knew I’d messed everything up between us, obliterated every tentative step in our friendship.
Instead I wondered what Corinne would think if she walked through the door now and saw this, us, sitting here all quiet. Was it weird? Was it weird to want to be quiet with someone, to not want to feel like you had to talk or do anything other than be there? It felt weird because it was Thomas I was feeling like this with. I’d only ever liked boys, but I’d never let what was in my head translate into reality before. I’d never been close to anyone I’d liked, and now here we were—crossing borders, annihilating boundaries.
Clammy warmth covered my hand. I looked down, my eyes growing wide as I saw Thomas’s hand had covered my own. My fingers stilled in their destruction of the sofa. My chest grew tight. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t look at him. I just turned my hand over so we could lock our fingers together and he could hold it properly. It felt a little bit like forgiveness. And a lot like tendrils of warm gold light were snaking their way up my arm.
“I’m sorry I fucked up your birthday,” I said after a long while. Too long, really. “I’m sorry I said what I did.” I hated the way my words broke apart the silence. They sounded so awkward, so inadequate.
My hand was sweaty from holding his, but I didn’t want to pull it away. I would never admit it, but I liked it too much. Far, far too much.
“Want to make it up to me?”
He still sounded a little breathless, but I punched him gently in the arm anyway.
Now we weren’t holding hands anymore. His fault. But I couldn’t bridge the divide to do it again.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him surreptitiously wipe his hand on his trousers, and I grinned. I didn’t know why.
God, I was so confusingly happy he was here. Happy and relieved that he didn’t seem to hate me. Happy and relieved he was okay after scaring me like he had.
“You’re not a coward, Sasha… I mean it… and you didn’t fuck anything up…. I did that all on my own.”
“You came all this way to tell me I’m not a coward?” I said incredulously, raising my eyebrow.
“Yes… and no…,” Thomas huffed. “I guess I didn’t want my birthday to end like that. Sixteen is a milestone. It should be memorable for the right reasons.”
Yeah, he was sixteen now. It was weird that he was younger than me. I felt like he should be older. Yet I was older by a whole year. I’d had to redo a year at school because of stuff that had happened in Brighton—I’d missed a lot of schoolwork. It was my own fault, though. And even though I should have been a year ahead, I was still failing everything.
“I don’t really know how to do this, but… do you mind if I ask you something?” Thomas seemed uncomfortable. His eyes avoided mine. He looked at the floor, his long eyelashes sweeping down, so dark at the roots and almost blond at the tips. I wondered if they felt as silky as they looked—I’d never been close enough to anyone to touch their eyelashes. I wondered if his skin was soft, if he smelled as good up close as my brain seemed to think he would—because at that moment I was convinced he would smell like the best thing ever—all fresh air and hot chips. A smile stole across my lips. I stared at the intricate map of dark freckles below his ear, the way the tendons of his neck stood taut like the pillars of some fantastical structure. I was looking so closely, I started a little when Thomas looked back up right at me. My heart stuttered. I couldn’t avoid his eyes, and deep in the center of me, I felt a jolt of something I’d never felt before—a rush of warmth and heat that flared so forcefully I felt light-headed—the starting of a fire. Almost abstractly I realized I was getting a hard-on, and I blushed.
I was blushing
, for fuck’s sake.
“If it’s…,” I stumbled. “If it’s about John Greene, I should have just told him to fuck off.”
I was desperately trying to dampen down the heat, but the fire was flaring within me, my cock was swelling, and my trousers were becoming tight and uncomfortable. I wanted to shift, but I didn’t want to make it obvious. I was mortified I had an erection with Thomas sitting next to me so close. I barely had any sexual drive normally, and I couldn’t work out what switch had suddenly been flicked, and I needed to. I needed to turn it off!
Thomas sighed. I kept looking at his mouth, the fullness of his lips. They looked so fucking soft. And my desire was all wound up with the protectiveness I’d been feeling a few minutes ago. Protectiveness for Thomas. I wanted to make him feel good—happy. I wanted to take care of him, even though I could barely take care of myself. My head was a tangled mess, but fuck, it was the first good mess I could remember feeling in a long time.
Hesitantly I brushed the tips of my fingers against his. I wanted to hold his hand again, but I couldn’t go further than this almost accidental touch.
Thomas brushed his fingers back against mine, and without even looking, took my hand in his. I shifted closer so our knees were touching. I was not in any sort of control of myself.
“Sasha… God, this is going to sound really stupid,” Thomas said with a groan. But I was barely paying attention as his thumb stroked the back of my hand in an almost hypnotic motion. “I really didn’t expect you to buy me a present.” He winced. “But when I saw you standing outside the house before the party I… I thought I saw you holding something… but then you never gave it to me, so I figured it wasn’t a present or anything… but I don’t know…. I feel stupid for thinking it.” He took a shaky breath before dipping his head and gripping my hand tightly.
The stupid thing was still in my pocket. I didn’t want it to be there. I wanted so much for it not to be there. But I pulled it out, the silver paper crumpled and not quite so pretty now.
Reluctantly I held it out to him.
“I did get you a present. I kind of forgot to give it to you.” I pulled a face, because I had definitely been a coward about that.
His large, beautiful hand let go of mine, and he held the tiny box so carefully and reverently, it was as if I’d given him the keys to a top-class sports car.
His eyes were wide, his expression one of complete wonderment. And all because of a tiny box wrapped in silver paper. I hoped he wasn’t going to be disappointed now.
“I know I’m no Luke Jones. I’ll never be like him. I’m fat, I’m rubbish at sports—”
I rolled my eyes, but I don’t think he noticed.
“You’re not fat,” I said. I wondered if it was really an issue for him and felt about a hundred times worse for ever using it against him. Thomas was well built, if a little stocky. He definitely wasn’t fat, but he didn’t do himself any favors with the baggy clothes he wore.
And I didn’t know what was with the Luke Jones comparisons. Luke Jones was a
, a sculpture made flesh. So what if Thomas wasn’t? I didn’t feel this way about Luke Jones. I didn’t make wildly inappropriate presents for Luke Jones, and if I saw Luke Jones having an asthma attack, I certainly wouldn’t sit with him and hold his hand and have to stop myself from pulling him into my arms. Luke Jones was an ideal, but Thomas was real and here and affecting every single one of my senses. It scared me a little that Thomas mentioned Luke Jones at all. I couldn’t bear it if my watching him was that obvious to everyone.
“I’ll never stand out from the crowd… I’m just too shy and ordinary… but when I’m with you… it doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters. There isn’t even any bloody crowd—there’s just us.”
Maybe he was looking at me. I don’t know. I was staring at my hands. Warmth swirling through my insides. It felt so fucking good.
“You’re not shy. You come and talk to me at school,” I mumbled, because I was self-aware enough to realize that was truly an act of bravado in itself.
I wished he’d just open the damn present. I was starting to feel a little sick with suspense.
“Getting the guts to talk to you in class is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Leaning over, he picked at the Sellotape I’d inexpertly taped around the present. The skin of his neck looked all pinkly flushed, and I had an almost irresistible urge to place my hand there, just to see if it felt hot or warm, smooth or soft, or if his short hair was really as damp as it looked where it curled against his nape.
I glanced around the room, trying to concentrate on the awfulness of the flat to try and lessen the intensity of these unnerving urges to touch Thomas. We lived in a dirty, cluttered mess with piles of clothes on the floor, magazines strewn about, dirty cups and plates in the kitchen. But all it did was remind me of my place in the hierarchy of things, and like a black cloud covering the sun, the warmth swirling in my guts turned cold and dark, and I began to doubt what I was doing, what Thomas was doing.
Why did it hurt that he was actually careful not to tear the paper? Why did it hurt that this all seemed to mean so much to him? Why was I so scared I was going to hurt him?
The pressure behind my eyes was like a tsunami I couldn’t stop. This whole situation played out in my head—I could never give Thomas what he needed, what he deserved. I had hurt him, and I would continue to hurt him, and I didn’t want to. I never wanted to hurt him. But I knew it was inevitable. I’d never felt so completely at the mercy of something so absolute and so true.
Thomas actually gasped when he opened the stupid box, his eyes alight with surprise and pleasure.
Shakily he held up the tiny glass sculpture on its chain. It was all shining yellow and blue glass, the pieces that had meant so much to me—my blue raindrop and an almost perfect oak leaf shape of purest sunshine yellow, heated a little and melted together. I’d made it one lunchtime last week when I was alone in class, the wind singing through the trees outside. Though perhaps it had a resemblance to a heart, it was easy to deny if I’d wanted. The jewelers in town had added a fastening and a silver chain—that was what had been expensive.
Without giving me time to block him, Thomas threw his arms around my shoulders, and he hugged me brief and tight.
It was too much, too close. I felt as though he could see inside me. I bit my lip and closed my eyes, enveloped by Thomas’s warmth and scent. It was heaven, and it was hell. And the battle going on inside me was pulling me apart.
I stopped myself from shoving him away, but only just. Thankfully Thomas released me, still smiling.
Immediately I regretted everything. This was going to end so badly. I was going to mess things up. I always messed things up. It all felt so messed up already. I didn’t understand why Thomas was here, why he would like me, why he was looking at me with a mixture of adoration and uncertainty. Why the boundaries of our friendship suddenly seemed so blurred.
“It’s beautiful, thank you,” he said. He attempted to undo the necklace’s delicate clasp, but his hands were trembling too badly. “Would you put it on for me?”
But I wasn’t sure I could. God, I was shaking so hard.
“It’s not too girly?” I asked quietly as I attempted to fasten it around his neck without touching any of his warm soft skin—even though I desperately wanted to. Still shaking, I pulled back. The chain hung quite low so he could tuck the necklace inside his shirt and no one would know. There was a weird fluttering going on in my chest as I looked at him wearing it.
“Are you crazy?” Thomas grinned, glowing. “I love it. It’s the best present I’ve ever had.” The last time my heart had beat this fast, I’d been running. “You made it, right?”
“For me? Or… I mean, it doesn’t matter if… if you didn’t, if it was just something you had… I love it the same anyway,” he babbled.
“I made it for you,” I said. I felt light-headed at the admittance and a little detached. My voice sounded as though it were coming from a long way off.
He suddenly grew serious, and I sort of knew he was going to say something I wasn’t sure I was going to know how to deal with, so I opened my mouth and spoke before he had a chance to.
“You okay now? I mean, the asthma… thing.” I swallowed uncomfortably.
“Yeah, I’m okay now.” Thomas reached for my hand. My pulse was racing—I wondered if he could feel it through my fingers. “You were really good, you know, really calm. You made me feel safe. And when you can’t breathe and you’re a bit terrified you’re never going to be able to breathe again, safe is exactly what you need. Thank you.”