Schizophrenia. Split mind.
Paul tapped his cigarette ash onto the pavement, watching the rain smear it into a grey-and-black smudge and then wash it away entirely. If only the rain would wash away other things as easily. His head tipped back until it gently touched the rough brickwork behind it. Seven hours had elapsed since he left the shelter and he was already freezing, wet through and miserable. The noises of the rainstorm filled his aural canal: the wet pattering, the trickle of it in the gutter beside him.
"Cold?" A voice echoed in his head.
"Go away," Paul told the hallucination, but it persisted. Dark, insidious, creeping like the tendrils of kudzu he only half remembered from Virginia.
"Homesick?" The voice pressed. But Paul was not going to succumb again: he was going to pull himself together and never look back. Virginia was a million miles away.
All of a sudden, time slid sideways and it was ten years ago: Paul was being pressed to a white clapperboard wall (the outside wall of a Baptist church, Paul's mind supplied) by a hot insistent body. A tongue plundered his mouth, tasting of molasses and secrecy. Vines snapped and brushed against them, petals like hot silk ghosting against their cheeks and hair. By the time they went back inside the church, their skin and hair would be scented with the fragrance of white magnolias. Just like always.
The tongue disappeared and then Matthew was talking, hurried, low, lustful. "We've got to go. If they're going to persecute us, we've got to go."
Paul shook the intoxication away, tried to force his eyelids to stay open. Tried to dissipate the dizzy dreaminess born of stolen liquor and sex. "Go? Where do you want to go? Where is there?"
"I don't know! Anywhere. I just know we can't stay here, Paul! My dad is going to kill me."
Earlier in the day, a slanderous message had been scrawled across the bonnet of Matthew's father's car. HOMO, it read, and Mr Davenport had had little trouble figuring out that the slur was aimed at his son. His faggy, skinny, non-sporty son.
It had been a stroke of luck that news of the word painted on Simon Davenport's car had travelled like lightening through the small town. Otherwise, Matthew might not have heard about it, might have come home to find his father sitting on the leafy porch with the mother-of-pearl inlaid revolver he kept in the garage. In Churchville, Virginia, you could be shot for stealing honey from the neighbour's beehive or picking the scuppernong grapes of the lot next door to yours.
"I don't even want to think about what might have happened if you'd gone home tonight," Paul said, burying his face in the powdery sweet scent of Matthew's neck.
Paul was back in the present. The miserable, dreary present. He disliked waking up from flashbacks because his memory always took him somewhere warm and humid: the Deep South, where all was dark and exotic and beautiful. In his flashbacks, the danger he and Matthew had faced was frightening but undeniably exhilarating.
The chilling grey streets of London were scaring Paul in a completely different way.
His shoulder blade was aching in the cold, even though the white puckered scar there was decades old, even though the bone and skin beneath had knit together and healed long ago. He worked his shoulder, hissing when his muscles snagged.
"Baby," taunted the voice. Auditory hallucinations, the doctor at the shelter had called them. Paul knew he could not afford to listen to the doctor, because if someone only confirmed to him that his mind was fractured and broken like shards of glass, then he would never get up again. He'd kill himself.
And Paul was too stubborn to let the world win.
Kissing under the vines of the church yard.
Matthew had given up on trying to convince Paul to run away and was now exploring the magnolia-coloured skin beneath Paul's t-shirt. "I think I love you," he muttered, and Paul echoed it readily. They were beginning to forget where they were, caught up in what they were doing. They were awoken from their daze by someone approaching. The someone was betrayed the snap of twigs underfoot, the creak of vines on the floor as he or she stepped on them.
The boys had a quick hissed conversation and slid alongside the clapperboard church wall, feeling their way away from the noises. The dense foliage hid them from the approaching person, and likewise they could not see who it was.
"Fuck," hissed Matthew when he heard a familiar sigh from the bushes. "It's my pa," he mouthed at Paul, and they ducked into the bushes. Tension, thick and exquisitely painful, built in Paul's chest while fear gnawed on his brain.
Finally, the noises drew close and then a pair of work-boot clad feet were standing right in front of their faces. Taut with a terrible, hysterical fear, Matthew wondered if his father had seen them. A soft, vaguely metallic click confirmed his worst fears: not only was Simon Davenport to look for them, but he was intent on killing them. A passionate, indignant anger blossomed in Matthew. How did his father know to find them hear? How had he managed to discover this, their most treasured of secret places?
Paul felt the fear again now, as fresh and dangerous as it had been on that day so long ago in the dank humidity of Virginia. He fitfully clung to his German army jacket, pulling it as far over his head as he could. Hiding. Was Simon here now, in Soho? Stalking him with the mother-of-pearl inlaid revolver? But no, that was stupid, and-
"Afraid." The voice was louder now. Wouldn't leave him alone. Wouldn't stop its constant torment.
A passer-by saw Paul sink to the dirty wet pavement and looked on curiously. Then the passer-by noted Paul's lank hair and second-hand coat. What scared the passer-by most, though, was the white-knuckled hands that Paul clutched himself with desperately. The passer-by walked on, slightly faster.
From his spot on the soft dark earth, Matthew stared at the work boots a second longer. Making his decision, he tried to work his hand (silently, for fear of alerting Simon to his presence) into his back pocket. He had a penknife there. Pressed horribly, achingly close to his lover, Paul felt the movement. "What?" he mouthed.
The last thing he expected was for Matthew's cupid bow lips to shape the word "knife", but they did, and so Paul reached into the back pocket of his boyfriend's jeans and slid the knife out gently. Matthew took it from him and – before either of them knew what was happening – thrust it into his father's calf.
Simon's denim jeans ripped apart, forming a blue cotton gash around a hairy leg, and the blade thrust deep into the pale flesh with a wet sheathing noise. Simon wailed in pain, dropping the revolver to the leafy forest floor.
"RUN!" Matthew bellowed, scrambling to his feet with wild beating fear in his heart. The bush came alive with activity and rustling and shouting as Simon became aware of what was happening, as the two teenage boys leapt away.
Matthew lead the way, tugging Paul along behind him like a careworn teddy bear. Simon had recovered (the boys both vaguely registered the cottony squelch as he tugged the penknife out of his own leg) and followed them through the forest, brandishing his gun. and Matthew's Converse All Stars pounded on the forest floor. They didn't know where they were going, but they knew they'd either escape or possibly die at Simon's calloused, uncaring hands.
"Stop!" Simon called once or twice during the mad beating-heart-dash, "I only want to save you, Matthew."
If he'd had the breath (or courage), Paul would have yelled back that nobody saves anyone with a pillbox revolver. And besides, there was suddenly the concussion of a gun-shot and the birds flew the trees. The pain exploded somewhere in Paul, sudden and hot and blinding. Metallic.
He passed out before he hit the undergrowth and when he awoke, Matthew and Simon were gone.
Paul's memory overtook him. The rain beat on him, the cold sunk into his bones, and an old, healed wound in his shoulder blade ached. But this would be the last rainstorm he endured, the last thing he ever knew.
He was going to be with Matthew at last.