Rewritten, perfected. I love this story- I know you're not supposed to say it about your own work, but I honestly do. There's way too much of myself in it.
I hope you like it.
Reviews make my year.
Connor and Theo
The heartbreak playlist.
His eyes were colder than I'd ever seen them, different somehow.
"I don't know you anymore," he whispered, and it was a fatal blow to my chest.
I felt something inside me shatter as I let myself be drawn in by his shadowed gaze. I was totally and utterly addicted to the terrible perfection of his sadness; the way his mouth fell into a perfect circle, his hair fell across his pale skin. Until then I had never understood just how beautiful sadness could be- he was exquisite in his desolation.
There were dark circles under his amber eyes that I didn't quite recognize; he looked exhausted, and his next words confirmed it.
I hated it, hated it more than I had ever hated myself.
"I'm just tired," he uttered, hoarse. His voice cracked as he forced out the words that would finish me. "I'm tired of never being enough for you. I'm tired of having nothing left to give. And most of all, I'm tired of trying to pretend everything is fine between us when we both know everything has changed."
I couldn't find the words to even speak. I couldn't move or breathe or process what he was saying, I stood there in the clearing for a minute, under the tree, silently trying to digest his words.
There were no tears on my cheeks.
Finally, painfully, I walked away.
And then my world went black.
"I'm broken and I'm fading; I'm half the man I thought I would be."
I was sitting with our friends in the cafeteria when his name was first mentioned.
"Wolf," a voice was saying. "Come on, dude, are you even listening to me?"
I started at the nickname. It was a reminder that I hadn't been around any people in a very long time, when my friends' voices sounded like strangers to me.
I looked into the dark-rimmed eyes of the boy opposite me, not quite aware of what he'd been asking. My food was still untouched.
"Tobe, nobody cares." Another voice interrupted my hazy thoughts, and I turned to look at the boy next to me.
"Cass?" My voice sounded feeble even to my own ears. I hadn't even known he was sitting there and I had a vague thought that maybe I should feel bad. He was my best friend, wasn't he?
I wasn't so sure.
He smiled in greeting then looked around before catching my eye again.
"We haven't seen Connor in a while, is everything okay with you guys?"
I couldn't believe he didn't know, I couldn't believe he hadn't seen.
At the sound of his name, I flinched. Toby put his hand on mine, as if to calm me, then pulled away, realising who he was touching.
"You haven't called him Cass in years, Theodore," he teased, tilting his head to look at me curiously.
His grey eyes searched mine, half-worried, and I could see the eyeliner marks Ash had drawn onto his eyelids.
I knew he would find nothing there.
Even in my eyes, I had nothing left to give.
"Crying, tragic waste of skin."
Ash caught up with me in the darkroom, finding me with my feet up on one of the stools, staring into nihility.
"Wolf, honey?" Her blonde hair enveloped me as she pulled me from my hiding place into her hug. Flashes of blue and pink caught my eye, and I pulled back to examine her more closely. Where had I been when she did that?
She saw me looking and grinned, turning so that I could see the back.
She'd had hundreds of choppy layers cut in and I wondered how long she'd had it that way.
In the way that only Ash could, she knew straight away, she smiled and stroked my cheek fondly.
"Three weeks," she whispered, as if sharing some great secret.
"And don't worry, you take all the time you need."
And that was where the real mourning began. I felt the urge to sob wildly, to ask her when the pain would go away, when the hell it would stop being hard to breathe and start feeling like I was actually living again. I felt so pathetically broken that I couldn't even begin to ask her for advice. I was a shadow of the boy I'd been. I wanted to be myself again- I wanted to ask what kind of sacrifice I'd have to make to be allowed to stop feeling so damn scared and vulnerable.
But I couldn't, so I didn't. Instead, I said nothing, just gave her a shaky smile and pulled another picture on the tray.
Ash stood there, looking on mournfully, as if I were a child who had to be told that my dog had passed away. And finally, she sighed, leaving in a cloud of Amarige perfume tainted by smoke.
I sat there for three hours, numb, until the bell rang and I walked the three miles home.
Just thinking of the bus made me feel nauseated.
"Even those old pictures have begun to fade."
I sat in my room as my dad called me for dinner, then feigned sleep as he brought my tray up.
I hated the awkward sympathy I saw in his eyes, resented the accusations they were making.
Too young, I thought, too fucking young.
He didn't know the half of what that meant.
I looked at my wall, looked at the pictures of Connor, and me, and our group; my gaze lingering on a shot of the five of us holding hands and melting into each other, so you couldn't see where one started and the other ended.
There was Toby. I smiled at his unassuming pose, because out of everyone, he hadn't changed at all. And maybe everyone knew him as October now; maybe his looks and the electricity he radiated earned him a new, cooler name that he couldn't be bothered to shrug off, but he was still the boy I'd grown up with. I always loved being with him, because he was the smartest, most genuine boy I'd ever met. His arm was around Ashley's shoulder in the picture, and different as they were, they seemed to fit perfectly.
Our group always had.
I pushed the treacherous thoughts from my mind.
I forced myself to study the picture again- a study in strength and an exercise in self-control. There was Luke. Lucas. Casanova. Whatever anyone wanted to call him; he was ridiculously attractive as only he could be, but he was still Cass, in his fickle little heart. His hair was white blonde and shaggy- he always looked sort of sleepy and thoroughly oversexed. He was beautiful in his own uncomplicated way, but he wasn't Connor.
I tore my eyes from the final couple in the picture.
My hair was a shock of auburn to match the autumn leaves and Connor was kissing my cheek. His hair was the same brown as dark chocolate, and it fell over his face to frame it perfectly. Looking at the picture, my heartstrings tugged and a lump rose in my throat. A picture couldn't do him justice; Connor was the most beautiful boy I'd ever seen, and some nights when we all sat under the stars at the bottom of Toby's garden, he'd play guitar and sing something unspeakably sad and broken. The photograph had been taken after one of those songs, with the camera resting on a tree branch and the five of us smiling into our futures.
I turned the picture over, seeing the words written on the back. Our gender ambiguous nicknames and their esoteric meanings.
Ash. October. Casanova. Wolf. Chance.
I didn't let myself cry that night.
"I can't breathe without you, but I have to."
I saw him, and it was like a cold day in August.
It was unexpected, and it hurt, and I wished things were how they were supposed to be.
Not cold or hostile or numb.
Just me and Connor under the tree by the courtyard, me and Connor playing in the woods late at night, me and Connor drawing songs and singing pictures, me and Connor, me and Connor… my beautiful, wonderful Connor.
Oh God, Oh God.
I hadn't known that emotional aching for someone could hurt in such a physical way. I missed him the way I'd have missed my right arm, I missed him in the way that looking for his eyes in the hallways became a favourite game that I always lost, and his picture on my wall became my only confidante. I missed him and I loved him, in a totally selfish way that said although it'd be kinder to let him go, I loved him too much to release my grip.
After all, he was still holding onto my heart, wasn't he?
I found it hard to believe that he didn't know; what was worse, I found it impossible to comprehend that he could be walking around whole, when all I felt was empty and hollow and numb.
Either he was a wonderful actor or he'd finally stopped caring… and as much as I knew he'd never been able to keep the truth from me before, I fervently wished that the second option wasn't so probable.
So seeing him... well, that one really knocked me for six.
I don't remember anything else that happened that day.
"With my heart beside me, in tattered pieces that will never be replaced."
The words were still there, carved into our tree. Nobody had been there since Connor left us, since Connor left me. The words were still there and I tried to believe that the feelings that had inspired them were there too. The only problem was that I didn't believe his words anymore, didn't believe his excuses.
He didn't love me anymore. Of course, he couldn't.
Chance loves Wolf for all eternity.
I had always thought it was a blessing, that I'd found him so soon. I'd spent months envisaging years of bliss, the life we had ahead of us. He'd given me the courage to come out, shaped and moulded my personality in such a way that it felt that he was a part of it. I had been so happy. I'd wanted it to last forever.
Wanting to die, it was the strangest feeling.
"Where can I turn, covered with scars I did nothing to earn?"
He spoke to me at a party, nineteen days exactly since he'd cut me out of his life. I don't know, maybe he thought that was enough time, maybe I wouldn't still be so fucking raw then, but he was wrong. It still killed me. Still absolutely tore me to pieces.
"How are you?"
He asked me like he actually meant it and like hell he cared. I wanted to hit him, wanted to touch him, wanted to do something to undo the past nineteen days but failing that I just kind of wanted him to hurt like I did. I refused to give him the satisfaction of winning because he had hurt me, and that wasn't how it was meant to happen. We were supposed to be strong together.
Now I needed to be strong on my own.
"Fucking wonderful," I replied, keeping my voice empty. I didn't ask how he was, didn't ask why there were still bags under his eyes or why he suddenly looked sick, and horribly guilty.
"I'm just tired," I echoed, remembering his words as if it were only a second after he'd destroyed my entire universe with them.
I walked away before he could see my tears, painfully aware that he wouldn't watch me go, excruciatingly aware that he didn't love me enough to follow.
I hadn't changed, I was sure of it.
It was his feelings that had.
"Who said that it's better to have loved and lost?"
It was another two days before he dared return to our lunch table. The second I saw him I felt my appetite drain away, felt the dull ache of unhappiness rise into a crescendo of painful memories. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to go to the dark room where nothing could hurt me and I could dwell on the photographs of us, of our past. I didn't want to sit with him, look at him or talk to him. It was just a reminder that he didn't want me in his future.
I stood up to leave as soon as he sat down. The others groaned collectively.
"Theo, stay," they said. Connor looked at me, dead on. I'd always been Wolf to him. He seemed shocked that I hadn't kept up the nickname.
"For what?" I answered, hating that it was easier to block out the emotion in my tone, hating the flatness that resounded in my voice. The ache in my chest throbbed, but I was used to it, and all I wanted was to escape to the darkroom and take pictures of wonderful things. I wanted to spend the rest of the school year in that little haven with snapshots of everything I'd lost and then leave for college in the fall, leaving it all behind.
"For me," he said, and I knew I wasn't the only one staring at him in disbelief.
I stood too quickly and I didn't care that I'd knocked over my soda, or that Ash's eyes were full of sympathy, or that Cass looked ready to hit Connor.
"That's not enough," I whispered, horrified and devastated.
I practically ran from the cafeteria.
"Pictures of you, pictures of me, remind us all of what we could have been."
He came to the darkroom; I felt just about ready to die.
All I wanted was to erase our years of friendship, and to eradicate the eight months of bliss. I wanted to forget him because I honestly did still love him and it was becoming unhealthy and disturbing, my dependence on his memory. I'd turned into some sort of walking zombie boy, and I hadn't had sex in over a month, hadn't even entertained the idea of taking up one of the many offers I got. I missed that part of Connor too, but in both respects, I couldn't bear to replace him yet. The darkroom was the one place where I could forget the world, and be alone without caring about the needs and necessities of the world outside. He ruined all of that with a single step.
"What are you snapping these days?"
Even my torment I could read the forced nonchalance in his tone. Before, I'd always been on the search for beauty, constantly photographing what inspired me and made me happy. Not anymore though. I was only inspired by what I understood.
"Broken things," I replied. "I photograph pain."
He looked around, saw the picture of us. The most broken of them all.
I carried on with the developing, unable to bring myself to see his reaction.
I held it together until I heard the door click.
"Too much poison, come undone, cos there's nothing else to do."
It was another night, another party.
I was finally socialising again, a month and a half after it had ended... I drank vodka as if it were water, knowing that Connor would not try to stop me.
The vodka was enough to have me dancing, running a hand through my now-blue hair as I ground into the throbbing mess of bodies around me. Suddenly, a hand was ghosting over my waist, sliding down my thigh. I looked back and saw Cass, my oldest friend, also drunk, grinning and grinding into me. Connor was watching, looking horror-struck, and I tore my eyes away from him. I still couldn't quite smile, but I started to dance against Cass, turning to face him so that our bodies were flush against each other.
I just wanted to feel again.
Cass took another swallow of Bacardi, moaning a little as I thrust my hips against his so that our groins were rubbing together. I liked that moan- I'd missed those noises, and it seemed like a fucking wonderful idea to unleash my sexual frustration on him.
It meant nothing at all, but as Cass began to kiss me hungrily and my tongue responded, all I could think was that it wasn't Connor.
It was so fucking unfair.
"Relief over misery, I've seen the enemy."
Confrontation wasn't any easier than my avoidance.
Connor cornered me at that same party, an hour later as I came back downstairs, straightening my hastily thrown on clothes. Cass was still sleeping in one of the guest bedrooms, but from the look of things, Connor had been drinking heavily since we'd gone up there. He looked fucking awful, and my heart went out to him before I remembered what he'd said to me, what he'd done.
He came straight over to me.
"I knew it," he snarled, sounding nasty and drunk and hurt. "I was right, you are fucking Lucas, you... you slut."
I punched him.
"You have no right to know who I fuck now, Connor. But I never cheated on you, you asshole. Never."
I left him bleeding in the middle of the kitchen.
"If you want me, come find me; make up your mind."
A couple of days later, he showed up on my doorstep with a black eye. He looked tired, and haggard, and pretty much exactly how I was feeling, really, and I contemplated not letting him in but finally led him up to my room reluctantly.
I stood there, feeling majorly awkward.
"You ended us," I said finally. "You stopped loving me."
Every word was a struggle, but I'd long been done with crying over him. I wasn't eating too well and I was fucking skinnier than ever, though, so I really doubted he'd come to tell me he was taking me back. That'd just be cruel. After everything, I think that would have been pretty impossible to come to terms with.
Connor looked like I'd punched him again; totally at a loss for words and so entirely destroyed that I almost, but only almost, felt guilty.
"I didn't stop loving you," he said, his voice barely audible. It cracked, almost painfully, and I looked involuntarily to the window, to the woods where we'd spent and wasted all that fucking time.
"Leave," I whispered, and I sat there, staring out of the window as he obliged.
I don't know how long I stayed there, staring.
I just know that he was gone when I stopped.
"Don't save me; it'll make things way too complicated."
"Connor thinks we were fucking," were the first words out of Cass' mouth when he arrived at the clearing, smoking a casual cigarette.
I winced at the term, even though I knew I would have said exactly the same thing.
"We were," was my cautious reminder. He smiled, ruefully, acknowledging the memory of the previous weekend. Then he shook his head, confusing me completely.
"He thinks we fucked when you were with him. Thinks you didn't love him, were gonna go off to college and forget him."
My heart hit my stomach. I wanted to throw up, but I hadn't eaten in days, and I knelt on the floor, dry-heaving and half-sobbing with some stupid mix of anger and hurt and relief.
Cass rubbed my shoulder awkwardly, sighing under his breath as he did so.
"It's okay, Wolf," he murmured. "I'm here."
Those words would be our undoing.
"I would do anything for another minute with you; it's not getting easier, it's not getting easier."
He came across me in the darkness.
Connor's face was the same as before- almost hideously empty, a shell of the beautiful boy I'd fallen in love with. But my breath still caught as I stepped into the darkroom and saw it there, in the shadows. It always would do, I suspected. I loved him as much as ever, no matter how much it hurt me.
One more time I let myself be drawn in by his haunted gaze. Still was I totally and utterly addicted to the terrible perfection of his sadness; the way his mouth fell into a perfect circle, his hair fell across his pale skin. Still, he was exquisite in his desolation. And there were dark circles under this eyes that I had almost come to recognize; he looked exhausted and I wondered why he'd begun it all, why he'd inflicted the separation on us when it clearly wasn't healing anything,
"Wolf," he whispered, and it sounded like a sob. It was laced with his pain and all I wanted to do was make it better.
"I loved you," I replied.
It wasn't an exaggeration and it wasn't a weapon. I prayed that Cass was right, that maybe he just needed to know that because maybe then it'd mean his appearance was all down to not having me.
Somehow, he still didn't seem happy.
"You pretty much ruined me, you know," I continued, trying for bravery. My voice was shaking so badly- I worried he wouldn't understand me.
"I am still so in love with you. I... hell, I adore you, Connor."
And then he was crushing his lips to mine, kissing every part of me that he could reach, panting "I'm sorry" brokenly, over and over and over.
I kissed him back.
"I've got you under my skin."
Days passed with no word. The agony returned at full force- I had tasted perfection and become hooked again. The comedown meant nothing. Connor was all that I thought of.
I thought about what he had said all of the time. Thought about the accusations- I don't know you anymore, he had said. I wondered if he'd thought I was cheating, how he could ever seriously entertain the thought that I would want anybody but him when I was so nonsensically dependent on being his, on having him as mine.
It got bad again. It got to the point where no food filled the empty void that threatened to engulf me from within, and I stopped eating it. It reached the point where no alcohol could make me forget the pain that was consuming me, and I drank more and more as if somehow it would.
The gang stopped saying his name and he didn't sit at our table.
He didn't try to call.
"I've started falling apart, I'm not savouring life."
It did not take me long to figure out an even unhealthier alternative to pining.
I spent half of my time in Luke's bed, and the other half on his sofa, or on his kitchen counter, or in a janitor's closet with him. I don't know why he let me, only that when he fucked me I could pretend that it was Connor's hand fisting in my hair, Connor pumping into me, Connor's slow laugh in my ear. Cass was rough and he never said 'I love you', but I was glad of it because if he didn't treat me as if I were breakable I wouldn't let myself fall to pieces.
I didn't really believe in 'I love you' anymore, anyway.
Just the dusky perfume of Cass' sheets and the salty taste of sweat and self-loathing, settling into my nostrils with a fatal sense of permanency.
"Don't hate me now, I can't tell how this last song ends."
He turned up at my window one night; a Romeo in Vans and tight jeans.
I was on my way out of it, about to sneak out to Cass' house. He spoke to me from the shadows at the bottom of the tree as I attempted to climb down and I nearly fell and died right there.
"Is it true?"
His words were permeated with hard lines of bitterness and old pain. I wanted to scream in frustration because I knew exactly what he was talking about and it wasn't fair at all, because he'd ended us, and he had no fucking right to expect a damn thing.
"Do you love me?" I replied.
He looked at me, aghast. As if he could never say that, never admit to loving me, never fucking tell me the truth about anything anymore.
"I build up walls? I shut you out?"
My words became as bitter as the night air; Connor flinched and I wanted to reach out and comfort him, like I'd done for all our thirteen years of friendship, but I couldn't, not anymore.
"You asshole," I finally whispered.
That night, Cass held me into the early hours of the morning.
"Would you lie with me and just forget the world?"
I started spending every night at Cass'. Sometimes we just slept, other times we'd be all about the skin on skin and the feverish kisses and the oh fuck, yes, but somehow it stopped being all about hurting. I wondered what had happened to his casual fuck buddies but a lot of the time I was too gone to care, wasted and skinny from too much sauce and not enough sustenance.
Sometimes I forgot that Connor existed, when Cass' lips were on my cock.
Time passed in a similar vein until it almost became routine not to touch Connor or annoy Connor or love Connor. I hated that even more than the agony because I'd never wanted to be okay with a life without him in it.
Cass still didn't say 'I love you'.
I still wondered why Connor had broken us.
"My bones ache, my skin feels cold."
Ash took me shopping, deciding with her practised eyes that I'd outgrown everything I owned.
Standing in the changing room, I called out to her to bring in a smaller size, not bothering to put a shirt back on.
Ash took one look at my body and welled up with tears.
"When did you last eat?"
She struggled to keep her voice even.
"Yesterday. The day before. I don't know."
I didn't know. I didn't remember yesterday. I knew I'd probably fucked Cass and drunk a couple of bottles of something alcoholic, but the days had started blurring together. We had a couple days off of school and being away from Connor had taken its toll. It would have scared me, had I had the ability to feel anything other than numb.
"You need help, Wolf," she whispered, fighting her emotions.
I flinched at the name. At everything that stupid word stood for and represented.
Chance loves Wolf...
Why couldn't it just be over?
"I'm not a perfect person... I never meant to do those things to you."
Ash tried and failed to fix my relationship with food.
It was, like my relationship with Connor, pretty much dead.
I wasn't being stubborn. I tried to force myself to do it, but every time I did I'd gag and there'd be a lump in my throat and I'd have no appetite at all, so I continued to exist on alcohol.
Cass said 'I love you' for the first time, nonchalantly giving me a box of my old favourite chocolates. He said 'I love you' as if it fixed everything, as if it were easy or like, enough, and he was so damn proud because he'd never said it in his life and never ever fucking felt it, and I couldn't bear to see him so young and naive because I was certain that love only ever made people unhappy.
I ended us, knowing for the first time what it must have felt like to be Connor; breaking it off with someone you were using, someone who cared far more than you'd ever wanted them to.
I left the chocolates unopened and retired to the darkroom.
Darkness came far too easily.
"I wasn't born to be a skeleton."
I woke up in a hospital bed with tubes stuck in my arms.
A crumpled figure was sprawled half across my bed, chocolate brown hair sticking into haphazard almost curls in nearly every direction. I lifted a weary hand, not caring that I was in a white gown in a creepy place, resting it on his arm, which was extended as if towards me.
For a few minutes, I just watched him, silent and broken.
He awoke with a start when I shifted in bed, trying to make myself more comfortable.
"How could you do this to me?" he demanded, and I shook my head in bitter disbelief. I was so ready to tell him to leave. I promise you. I was.
I couldn't be sure if I'd heard him right, but my poor heart skipped a beat. I managed to grunt intelligently in his direction.
"I love... you," he repeated, softer, and I felt tears on my cheeks that I couldn't account for. I felt like I was drowning in them, like what was happening was totally out of my control. I felt like I was about to go under and never resurface, but I couldn't help it. I wanted him, still. Even after all the pain he'd caused, I was too hopelessly in love with him to consider any other option than to fall into his waiting arms.
"Eat, Goddamn you, please," he whispered, fiercely.
All I could do was nod.
"So I'll make whirlpools and watch him sparkle."
I began to be able to read his 'I love you's in every fibre of his being, every nuance of his expression. It was in the depth of his hello, the fervent heat of his kisses, the urgent worry in his prompts for me to eat. I began to do it, though, eventually getting to the point where he would bring me dinner from his dad's diner and I'd manage to eat half of my portion, slowly.
I still obsessed over us.
One night I couldn't take it any more.
"Tell me," I urged, "tell me why please, so I won't hate you for it."
He looked as if I'd stabbed him in the chest.
"You would hate me?"
I regretted it, but I said nothing. It was imperative that he continue.
"We weren't happy," he began. "I was unhappy. I don't know what I thought. I could see how Cass felt about you and I thought I wasn't enough, and I thought maybe if I let you go you'd be free to be happy with him... I didn't know how deep and selfish my feelings were. I didn't know how hard it'd be or how devastated it'd make you... I'm just an asshole. I'm sorry."
I said nothing. My eyes welled up.
"But I'm an asshole that can't seem to... I don't know, survive, Wolf, unless you're in my life. It's like... you're some sort of drug and I'm so pathetically hooked."
I couldn't find the words to even speak. I couldn't move or breathe or process what he was saying, I stood there in the clearing for a minute, under the tree, silently trying to digest his words. I couldn't believe we were back there again, after all we'd been through, and I couldn't even begin to accept his apology.
There were tears on both our faces.
"I will always remember you as you are right now."
It seemed like a decade before either of us moved, but eventually one of us must have done.
Slowly, hesitantly, he captured my lips with his own, putting a tentative hand to my cheek. My heart threatened to break free from my chest and birds sang- and the world kept turning, but for me, in that moment, everything stopped.
He moved his hand to my stomach and I pushed it away, knowing that he'd feel only the emptiness brought on by two months of starvation, but he pulled off my shirt and began to kiss all of the way up.
At last. At last I felt whole again.
Sheer and utter bliss took over my every sense, little fireworks erupting at every nerve like a high that even heroin couldn't equal.
We stood there, as we'd begun; two gay boys, two best friends, standing in the middle woods. Kissing, touching, tasting. Trapping euphoria between lips and rolling the sweet 'I love you' from tongues engaged in other, more physical pursuits.
We stood there, strong again, and all of the angst finally melted away.
And the screen faded to black.