Author's Note: First off, I'm Canadian, so I spell things the Canadian way. For example: color colour. Also, I've based this story in Ireland, but I have never been there and all of the places I've created are fictional. The characters and story are mine. Also, if you read, please don't just lurk! I like feedback, it's what keeps the muse churning. So I shamelessly ask for reviews.
Warning: this fic contains slash and, later, strong sexual themes. If boyxboy love bothers you at all, hit the back button. Also, this story's focus is NOT on the 'ohnoez I'm a flamer and now my mommies hates me' (to put it strangely). I wanted this to have a darker theme that doesn't revolve around the controversy of homosexuality, so the characters just ARE gay and go about their lives being gay and stuff happens. Kay? Kay.
Looking back, I now
realize why it was impossible for me to comprehend
all the stupid nuances of my life as I lived it.
The answer is simple.
You can't understand the journey until you've reached the end…
Meet Noel Delacroix. He's a busboy at the Poison Apple – a café across the street from his loft. He likes to write messages in the condensation on windows and mirrors for people to find. "There's beauty in the breakdown," or "I love your favourite band." The St. Catherine's canal is just down the street, where he goes to take pictures and sometimes to read. He visits the park to throw balls over the fence to applauding schoolyard kids, and because he likes the tire swing. His favourite season is Fall because he thinks it's the most colourful.
On Thursday the rain had pasted the leaves to the sidewalks and run their colours down the gutters. Noel crossed the street to work without an umbrella because the rain was still warm. He opened the glass door to the chime of bells.
"Beautiful day, isn't it?" Naomi drawled sarcastically, fetching a drying towel and tossing it over Noel's head as he walked to the back to hang his jacket.
Naomi has owned the Poison Apple since her father got struck by lightning. She has a sharp tongue and a sharper eye for detail; she reads people like they're magazines. Every morning she adds a shot of fireball whiskey to her coffee.
"I don't mind it," Noel answered to her weather commentary, shaking water from his hair and towel drying the rest. He knew it'd be sticking up and about when he was done, but it's normally hopeless anyway. "Jadyn off today?"
"No, he's in at noon," Aubrey said, appearing through the loo doors and teetering over to stand behind the counter. Aubrey's fashion savvy attitude had settled in for hibernation around the late eighties and never quite woke up. She claims that her only joy in life is her cat, Mia; Noel thinks her only joy in life is vodka. She thrust a mug into the coffee machine as a tall gentleman with a handsome goatee walked in. "Your regular?" Aubrey asked.
"Of course," replied the man, whose name was Eli. Eli has been a regular at the Poison Apple since Noel started working there. He told Noel daily that it's the only decent place for coffee in all of Ireland; in Noel's opinion, he comes to see Aubrey, who has his every order memorized and calls him 'Sugar.' He pops mints like pills and has a nasty habit of biting his nails.
At the back of the café sat another of the regulars. His name is… well, no one knows. He has never spoken a word to anyone, he simply points at the things he wants and nods when they have it right. The employees of the Poison Apple call him Silent Sam because he's silent and he looks a bit like Samuel L. Jackson might when he's eighty. Today, though, something about his silence is a bit different.
"How's the new screenplay coming along, Eli?" Naomi asked, drying a mug and laying it on the rack. "Any better than the last?"
"'Fraid not; but it does wile away the time," he replied, winking. Aubrey laughed like a daft cow and pranced over to Sam's corner-booth.
"Nonsense, you've got loads of talent!" she amended, turning on her heel to tap Sam on the shoulder. He'd taken a snooze. "Anything else today, Sam?" she inquired, bending to make eye contact. He didn't budge. She tapped him again. "Sam?" Naomi perked up at the sudden note of distress in Aubrey's voice and swept across the room. Aubrey backed away.
"Sam?" Naomi tries, and she gave his shoulder a little shake. He slumped against the wall with a sound like air expelled from a vacuum, leaving a flag of red blood against the yellow upholstery. Aubrey screamed and Naomi said, "oh God." Noel grabbed the phone and, with shaking fingers, dialled 911.
When the police had arrived, everyone had all left the building to stand in the rain. It was the last thing they wanted to look at, but none of them could tear their eyes away from the crumpled body in the back booth. Aubrey's sobs and the patter of rain against the window pane were the only sounds. Naomi lit a cigarette and sat on the curb, tapping her ashes into the gutter, oblivious to the wet seeping through her skirt. "There was a guy in this morning I'd never seen before. Never went to the back though. Never left the counter. Sat on the stool right in front of me the whole time. Didn't even look at Sam."
There were two officers getting out of the car, one who stood tall, the other who slunk behind monitoring his superior's every move and jotting things down on a notepad. They asked Aubrey if she could answer some questions. The younger officer flipped a page and started scribbling madly as they spoke. He had a very prominent hickey on his neck. Not two minutes later and many other serious looking officials had started putting up yellow tape and one had gone in to see the body. Noel shivered.
The rain didn't stop.
When the police had finished questioning and declared that the café was officially made a crime scene, Noel and his co-workers had all decided to go home. When Noel got home he stripped to nothing and put on a thick sweater; it was warm outside but he was cold anyway. His flat was just above a bakery, and smelled like fresh-made bread. The room had two windows, one set into the wall to form a sitting area. There, the drapes floated like crimson ghosts around the orange pillows, setting the whole room on fire with light. The kitchen was set slightly to the side, and beside it was the only door, leading to the bathroom. Bookcases separated the sitting area from Noel's bedroom. In his room, he opened a drawer, flicking through the various papers inside. Old wrapping paper, newspaper, tissue paper. He withdrew three squares of wrapping paper: blue with gold stars, green with Christmas trees, and sparkly yellow. Then he went to sit at the window, where he folded each piece with delicate care. Flip, fold, crease, fold, flip, tuck. He shaped each origami flower with his palm and placed them on the windowsill, where they fluttered with the draft. He put a pot of water on the boil in the kitchen, and had just fetched strips of coloured paper from his drawer when there was a knock on the door. Noel scrambled for a pair of pants before opening the door.
Jadyn was an eccentric fellow with torn jeans and more holes in his body than a cut of Swiss cheese. He liked very loud music and the word 'fuck.' In fact, the first word out of his mouth when Noel answered the door was…
"FUCK!" Noel stepped back to let his friend in, closing the door behind him.
"You heard?" Noel asked, stirring the pot and adding pasta. He started opening a can of tomato sauce.
"Sam? Old Sam? Why would anybody want to kill him. And HOW? Aubrey said he was alive and fuckin' kicking when he came in, ordered and all. He was shot?"
Noel nodded, still feeling a bit numb. He poured the contents of the can into a smaller pot and put that on the burner too. "Do you want some of this?" he asked, knowing the answer.
"Fuck yes, I'm starved. I was going to eat when I got to work but I came and there was yellow tape all around and lots of shady uniforms. I never like them, look at me like I'm a criminal."
"You've got tattoos," I reasoned. "Lots of them." Not that anybody at the Poison Apple minded. The artwork that decorated his arms in sleeves of colour was actually quite beautiful. Jadyn, generally, was considered quite beautiful despite his choice of attire. He chewed his lip stud, holding back another curse, Noel imagined.
"Did you see the guy Naomi was talking about?" Jadyn asked, flipping his chucks off at the door and hoisting himself onto the kitchen counter.
"No, I came in later today. She saw his face and everything though. The cops are pretty sure it was him. Positive, actually. Didn't say why." Noel stirred the pot contemplatively, almost hoping Jadyn would change the subject so he wouldn't have to see it all again. Blood like a smear of surrender against yellow padding… They'd just gotten the booths and tables reupholstered and installed four months ago.
Sensing Noel's discomfort, "so I'm thinking about going to the canal for some fresh air. After dindins, of course. Wanna come with?"
Noel nodded with a forced smile, pouring the pasta into a strainer and adding a few spices to the sauce. "I could take a few pictures, hasn't rained in a while..."
Jadyn was good at lightening the mood; that's why Noel liked him. He chattered incessantly all the way to the canal, grabbing flat rocks and skipping them along the water as they went. Noel had brought his Polaroid to take pictures of the swollen river and the autumn leaves. He'd started drawing when he was very young, but a kid in his elementary school class had told him his work was 'icky.' When he'd gotten home he'd used his mother's paper shredder to eviscerate the miserable failure, and had taken to photography instead. Jadyn hadn't given up hope on the art, and had designed all of the tattoos that now decorated his body.
Still, the conversation inevitably turned back to the tragedy of the morning, and Noel couldn't help but puzzle over it aloud as well. "Do you think they'll catch the one who did it?"
"I don't know," Jadyn mused, skipping another rock. It hopped six times before sinking to the bottom. "You said the cops were pretty sure that weirdo was the killer, right? Maybe he's a serial killer and they're matching the patterns or something." Noel shrugged.
"Do you think maybe he deserved it…?" Noel voiced his thoughts.
"Sam? Silent Sam?" Jadyn sounded dubious. He ran spidery fingers through his hair and kicked a leaf. "Doubt it."
"He never talked. Maybe he was part of some… organized crime or something. You never know."
"He was bloody ancient!" Jadyn didn't seem to think much of his argument, but something about the whole ordeal just didn't feel right. "Know what? We should both forget the whole thing. It's none of our business. Nothing good can come of getting wrapped up in murder. Saw a film. Something with Jake Gyllenhaal." He paused to revel in that name. Noel laughed a little, wondering if Jadyn still kissed that poster of the celebrity before bed. "Zodiac or something. Became totally obsessed with this serial killer and ended up losing his family, friends, everything. Fell apart. Big mess. Weird film."
Noel nodded, snapping another photo of a boy crouched under a tree near the canal, picking up rocks and putting them in a jar of water. There was a crow nearby, pulling worms out of the soil. The boy was wearing a garbage bag, and his dark hair was matted to his forehead. He looked up at Noel just as he was poised to take another picture, and Noel froze. He wasn't sure if it was the sheer intensity of the boy's gaze or the unrivalled beauty in that face that stopped him in his tracks. He wasn't even sure how long he'd stared.
The boy had arsenic pale skin and black eyes with dark circles that should have made him tired but only intensified the power of his gaze. His fringe hung in wet tresses around his face, punctuating a full mouth. Noel wasn't sure if it was the androgynous grace of the boy's movements or the unusual allure of his appearance that captivated him, but one thing was for certain.
He wanted to photograph this boy again and again.
"Noel? Hey, yoohoo," Jadyn whistled, and without verbal answer Noel grabbed his sleeve and dragged him back in the other direction, across the bridge and back down his street until they'd reached the bakery. Jadyn's protests had died, he simply trotted along, trying not to worry about his friend's apparent distress.
He asked just once. "What was that about?"
Noel shook his head, not wanting to say. "Nothing..."
That night, before bed, Noel folded ten origami stars and put them in the half-full fishbowl. He read a chapter of 'A Spot of Bother.' When he closed his eyes, despite his best efforts to distract himself, he still saw that boy's face….