Never There

The green eyes stared at the wall above his head, unable to look directly at him. "We can't do this anymore," the teenager said, quietly but firmly, the whisper driving a stake into the other's heart.

There was a sharp intake of breath, the balling of fists, fingernails cutting into skin. "Why not?"

"I can't be like you," the voice said coldly, "I'm not a fag."

"Oh," the reply came, haughty to cover up the aching in his heart. "You certainly didn't seem to mind being like me last night."

The other's brows furrowed, lines showing painfully on his forehead. "Just—just shut up," he grit out, turning and leaving the teen's bedroom and leaving his ex-lover to try and put together the jigsaw pieces of his heart all by himself.

The school took a trip to New York once. I can remember it, clear as day, because it was an end and a beginning all in one.

Flavian and I had remained friends even after we broke up, although there were certain moments when a tense silence would stretch between us, one that had never been there before. Flavian had become a different person from the one I fell in love with—in an attempt to be popular, he took up football, smoking, drinking, and sleeping with any girl he could find. I followed in his path, searching for lust… because love was gone—love had been in the person he'd once been, the person he'd killed.

And then the airport had the gall to lose my luggage. Before, I wouldn't have been too upset about it. I would've laughed a little and said that I hadn't liked those clothes too much anyway. Now, though, I had something to prove—I could be just as bitchy as Flavian. I could be bitchier than him if I wanted to be.

That's why I started cussing at the nervously smiling airport attendant, a cute, shy-looking woman. She was adorable, really, with little freckles dotting her cheeks and tears coming to her eyes. I didn't stop yelling, though, the anger at Flavian coming out in my words, until a warm hand landed on my shoulder and I whipped around, coming face-to-face with a small brown-haired teen.

"You can borrow some of my clothes," he said softly, a gentle smile on his face. I could tell it was fake. He had a beautiful face though, soft like a girl's with big brown eyes and too many eyelashes.

"You're much too small," I said, but took a breath and walked off with him when he grasped my hand. Something about his presence was soothing all in itself, and I couldn't help but feel just a little less bitter with his fingers enclosed in mine.

I smiled slightly, remembering that I was sharing my room with him. Maybe things wouldn't be so bad.

That boy—I learned his name was Siren—was indeed rooming with me. Well, Flavian and me, rather. We were supposed to have rooms of four, but Siren's friend Jonathan had been forced to forgo the trip at the last minute. Poor Siren was stuck, alone and friendless, with Flavian and me. I pitied him, but he always just plastered that fake smile on his face and acted like he was having fun, even when Flavian yelled at him for… well, I don't know what it was about, and knowing Flavian, it was probably something he'd made up. Siren liked to pretend he was happy. He was a complete doormat, and Flavian had decided to take advantage of his kindness in any way possible.

Flavian hadn't always been like that. When I'd first met him, in our seventh-grade drama class, he'd been quiet and shy (except when he was acting, and then he was outgoing and infectiously happy) and absolutely tiny, the top of his head barely reaching my shoulder. Everyone picked on him, beat him up after school, tried to stuff him into the rusty blue lockers whose combination locks had long since become cantankerous and nearly unusable in their old age.

He had the most beautiful green eyes.

Back then, I'd been popular and "normal." Dark brown hair that bordered on black, cut short—nothing like my hair now, long and dyed purple and a little crunchy when I run out of conditioner. I probably would've been picked on if not for my friendship with Flavian… what a turnaround, huh? People talked about me when they thought I couldn't hear. They called me 'fag,' 'whore,' 'AIDS for sale…' but they were worse than me. They all slept around more than I did. Flavian stood up for me sometimes, but only when he had to.

When it got to be too much he'd stand in front of me and cuss them out and I'd stare at his back and it'd be just like it used to be, except he was taller than before and his shoulders were broader and I wanted so badly to put my arms around him… but then the rest of the time he was completely different. We hung out a little, but he was usually busy with football or his girlfriends. Sometimes he even visited whores, or one whore in particular. He didn't mention her too often, but he always smirked when he did.

"Yeah, she was pretty great…" Flavian murmured from across the room. I glanced over at him; he was standing across from Siren, grinning at him. Siren stared at his feet as he fumbled with the coffee machine.

"Decaf or regular?" Siren asked casually, without looking up.

"Of course, the food is great too. It's a good idea, you know? Visit a whore, get supper. I'm sure husbands like it because then they don't have to feel guilty eating their wives' cooking. Ingenious, really. Has she always run business that way, do you think?"

I didn't understand what was happening, not really, but I stood and walked over to them anyway. "Leave him alone, Flavian."

"I'm not doing anything to him. We're just talking."

I glared at Flavian, my heart too hurt to pass up an opportunity to treat him like shit. So I was bitter. Anyone would be bitter. I took Siren's arm and led him away, stomping out into the hallway. "C'mon, let's go visit the vending machines!"

Siren didn't comment on my odd behavior; he merely allowed me to drag him along. I suppose he was just like that. "Are you a Taoist?" I asked as we arrived at the machine, full of terribly unhealthy things like soda and chips and crackers. "I always thought that stuff was cool, Eastern religions and all. Taoists just… go with the flow, y'know? Like you." I spared him a downward glance, taking in his nearly blank eyes and his soft, expressionless face. I felt the sudden urge to carve something there, so it wouldn't be so pristine. "Then again, maybe you're not," I decided with a smirk. I let go of his arm and studied the menu.

"What?" he asked, although he didn't sound confused.

"Hmm… I think I'll have A4…" I murmured, inserting my dollar and pressing the buttons, hearing a satisfying thunk as my soda landed in the chute at the bottom. "You want anything?"

"N-no, I left my money in the room…"

"I'll pay."

"That's all right," he murmured in an almost shy manner, looking away.

…He was so cute. "All right, then an A4 for you too," I declared, getting another soda and passing it to him.

"You didn't have to, really. I'll pay you back as soon as we go to the room."

"I don't really want to go back anytime soon… if that's all right…" I murmured. "You wanna… hang out in the lounge?" I asked, gesturing over to the deserted room with couches and tables and outdated magazines.

I knew he was lying when he nodded and said, "Yes," but at least he was kind. He sat down across from me as I leaned on the table, a strange pain starting up just above my temple. I gritted my teeth and set my soda aside. "Flavian… he's just horrible, isn't he?"

Siren didn't answer, and of course I knew he wouldn't. No matter what Flavian did, he wouldn't say a bad word about him.

"I'm so angry with him… I'm so bitter. I want things to be the way they used to be…"

Siren didn't ask how things were before because he didn't want to pry. He'd wait for me to voluntarily spill out my heart to him and then he'd just calmly give me a consolation in his sweet, fake voice and I'd want to punch him in the face and shove him against the wall and kiss him, all at once. I can't do any of that, though.

No one seems to notice the plastic quality of Siren's smile, the strained way he says things, the depth of his eyes that look almost ancient, but monotonous at the same time. They overlook the small details like that, but the details are the most important. They don't realize anything.

But I won't be made a fool of. Siren won't be allowed to treat me like everyone else, with that flimsy kindness. "What does Flavian know about you that no one else does?" I blurted out, staring at the brunet.

Shock spread across his features for a moment, his brown eyes opening wide before closing up again, his usual flat expression once again laying claim to his face. "He doesn't know anything that no one else knows."

"Of course he does! He wouldn't act that way if he didn't know something. What are you hiding, Siren?"

"I don't hide things."

"Liar," I bit out harshly, but Siren hardly seemed to pay me any attention.

He gave a tiny shrug and popped the top on his soda, listening as it fizzled. "You loved him, didn't you?" he asked softly.

I gaped, taken aback. "What?"

"You weren't always so crude. I figured that he broke your heart and it made you bitter."

"What do you know about bitterness?"

"…A bit," he murmured and took a sip. I could only stare at him, and even when our eyes met there was no spark of understanding between us. "I bet he loved you too. He's using those girls to fill the void."

"Not effin' likely. If he loved me, he wouldn't have dumped me."

"You'd be surprised," Siren declared, surveying the spread of magazines on the table. "Wow, back issues of National Geographic." He took one and thumbed through the pages, his eyes at half-mast.

He was awfully confusing sometimes.

"It takes time, you know, to let go of all that bitterness. Sometimes it never goes away. But I think that… if you talked to him about it, really talked instead of cussing and yelling, you'd be able to make it at least a little bit better."

There was suddenly an open look in his eyes, a brief light across his features. I shifted nervously. "It might help. But it's tough."

"…If you do it, I'll give you a prize."

"A kiss?" I suggested.

"No; guess again."

"A… hug?"

"You get to read this issue of Parade magazine," Siren said dully, waving around the small booklet.

"I don't wanna," I pouted, following along with the other's childish game. It was almost fun; it was like momentarily forgetting that my heart was broken. I want to be a child with you, Siren. You make me forget that the world is a horrible place.

But it was not meant to be.

Siren gave me a soft smile and pulled me to my feet with more strength than I thought he possessed and together, we returned to the room. I unlocked the door and stepped inside, Siren trailing behind me.

Pressure is applied to my torso and my back hits the wall. I panic at first, but then I realize that it's all right, it's only Flavian, and he's looking at me like—

"What are you doing?" I huffed, pushing against him—but he wouldn't budge.

"I'm feeling kind of… tense right now. I thought maybe you'd know how to… help," Flavian murmured suggestively, brushing his lips against the tip of my ear.

"Not anymore," I growled, helpless to do anything else to protest. Maybe if I refused, he'd let go of me… he was so close. I could smell his scent, see into the emerald depths of his eyes, breathe his breath… he was much too close.

"Well, Phoenix, someone will have to help me… and it looks like it'll be either you or Siren, dear," he whispered, smirking. My eyes darted to the brown-haired boy gaping at us from across the room. His eyes were wide with shock, his mouth hanging slightly open.

"No…"

"It's fine if you don't want to—I'd rather have Siren than you anyway. He's got the prettier face and so much more experience, after all."

"Let go of him," Siren growled suddenly, and I watched as he yanked Flavian back by his neck. There was something utterly hellish in Siren's normally sugar sweet eyes, and it was frightening. His glare could wilt roses and freeze hearts, and I was glad to not be on the receiving end.

"Heh. You're just pissed because all I'm saying is true," Flavian smirked, unfazed.

"You're a lying bastard and you'd better calm the hell down before someone cuts it off," Siren hissed.

"Someone? Someone like you? I'd like to see you try."

"Give me a knife and I will, bastard."

"You're so silly," Flavian remarked, breaking out of Siren's grasp and spinning around to take him by the shoulders. "You can talk pretty tough, but you've got nothing to back it up with. I can do whatever I want to do to you and you're not in any position to stop me. You wouldn't even really want to—after all, you enjoy stuff like that, don't you?" He gave Siren a lopsided smile, but Siren was staring off to the side. Disassociating.

"Flavian, why don't you just go somewhere? Blow off some steam?" I suggested, staring wearily at the two.

"You should be glad I'm concentrating on him and not you, Phoenix." The bastard was grinning as he squeezed Siren's shoulders, hoping for a response but not receiving one.

"What's wrong with you? You weren't always a bastard, you know. If you're horny, take a cold shower, but don't involve us in it."

"Oh, I see… you're feeling left out, aren't you? You remember how good it was with me, don't you, and you're jealous that Siren's getting all my attention. Don't worry—I can make time for you too." He'd pulled the other close, threading a hand through his hair.

I bit my lip, staring at him. He was so mean… why? Why was he being so cruel? "You could've had me, you bastard. If you're not getting any, that's your fault."

"Well, it's a lot harder to avoid getting caught with a girl on a school trip, you know. So I thought, why not just use Phoenix? After all, we're rooming together. And we are bestest friends, aren't we?"

I gritted my teeth, raised my fist, and slammed it into his jaw. He stumbled backward and I took Siren's hand, tugging him out of the room with me.

"Fucking bastard!" I yelled, probably disturbing the other patrons. Siren's hand was firmly clutching my own, finally something more than a passive touch, but I couldn't appreciate it.

"I guess I was wrong," Siren murmured.

"You really surprised me back there, kid," I remarked, running my other hand through my hair. "You were kinda scary."

Siren stared at his feet. "Yeah… I try not to do that."

"So Flavian… thinks you're a whore?" I asked quietly. We sat down in one of the hallways, leaning our backs against the wall. Siren's shoulder was touching mine.

"Yeah," he rasped tiredly.

"And are you?"

"Nah," he whimpered. Turning, I saw the tiniest of tears rolling down his cheeks, one on each side and nothing more. His eyes were broken mirrors in his face and I nearly felt my heart crack. It was sad enough that he was crying, but it was even sadder that his misery didn't—couldn't?— reach the rest of his face.

I shouldn't have—I knew I shouldn't have but I did it anyway— I kissed him then, softly because he himself was soft, his plastic melting—

He gasped and shoved me away, covering his face with his hands. The refusal stung, but it was what I'd expected all along. I had the sudden thought that maybe if I were forceful, like Flavian, he'd take it without protest… but that wasn't what I wanted, not really. Flavian moved from desperation and I supposed that he wanted the sex just as much as he wanted just to be touched by someone, anyone because I knew he was lonely and empty.

"Don't," he breathed.

"Are you 'not like that' too?" I asked lightly. I could accept the refusal, couldn't I? I wasn't as lonely as Flavian.

"I'm not anything. I'm nothing."

Seeing him broken was excruciating, even if I couldn't see his face… but then again, maybe he was always broken and it just never showed. I couldn't look at him, not like this, and I couldn't help either. I'd only make things worse. Facing Flavian would be so much easier than confronting this, this sad child, so I decided to fix things.

Standing, I patted his head. "Don't worry, all right? I'm going to fix things. It might be best if you stay out here for a while, angel. But I'll make it better, don't you worry. Talk some sense into Flavian. After all, he's my best friend, right?"

Siren looked up at me and smiled, gave me something that at least seemed real, and I felt like I could do anything: move mountains, create peace in the world, change Flavian's mind… but inside I knew it was false, like Siren's smile probably was, and that I'd never be able to change the man who treated me like shit back into the boy who'd been my best friend and my lover.

But I could pretend and let him kiss me and imagine it was love and whisper his name into his ear and put my arms around him and submit to his will…

And then everybody, anybody, and nobody would be happy.

AN: This has been in the works for nearing forever and… finally done? It's not a masterpiece… but you'd be surprised how looming stats tests can make a person want to write. Anyway, tell me what you thought, por favor.