The air smells like tears.
"Is it alright for her to be by herself?" Cameron asks. "I don't mind being left alone, but still..."
Ian glances over at his sister. She's far enough away to look like nothing more than a white-and-peach blur. She's moving towards the cloudy sky. Her area of beach is completely untouched by people or plants to provide some sort of breaker. The wind must be even colder there. She won't be gone for long, Ian decides. She'll come back soon for a blanket.
"It's alright," he says out loud.
He leans into Cameron's shoulder just as another cold gust of wind blows. He hunches up his shoulders reflexively and adjusts his head so that he's comfortable. Or as comfortable as he can get on Cameron's bony shoulder.
"It's a nice day," Cameron murmurs. It takes Ian a moment to realize where the words have come from. He pushes the cloudy vapors of fatigue and hums an affirmative. "It's a shame we couldn't have come later."
Ian shuts his eyes against the wind that isn't there.
"I'm glad we got to come today," Cameron continues. His tone is light, almost playful. Ian can hear the strain.
It's cold. His skin is a rubbery mass. He stares at the goosebumps with fascination. He feels detached from himself, like he's sitting an inch off from where his body is. The thought occurs to him that he's stopped feeling the grit of the sand. He adjusts, just to make sure it's there, to make sure that this isn't a dream, and there it is, sharp and rough and irritating. He feels like a fool.
"It's quiet," Cameron whispers. Ian listens, straining his ears for any sound. The waves lap against the shore, nothing more than white noise, and the wind stirs the brittle grass behind them, making it let out a raspy noise like the sound of a dying engine. There are no birds – it's probably too cold. Cameron is right – it's dead silent.
This is for the best.
"Are you really glad we came?" Ian mumbles into the soft, sweet-smelling flesh of Cameron's shoulder. "Even though it's freezing?"
"Yeah," Cameron answers genuinely. "It's beautiful."
Leave it to Cameron to judge a day by the scene in front of him.
"Sorry about this," Ian mutters, raising his head. He doesn't even know what he's apologizing for this time.
"I don't care. I knew it would be cold," Cameron replies.
For a second, there is a curious pressure behind Ian's eyes. It's almost like tears, but it can't be – He doesn't feel anything. There is no reason to cry.
"You've been really quiet lately," he whispers, and there's a rasp in his voice. "It's her, isn't it? She's getting worse."
He imagines he can hear Cameron's muscles tense as well as feel them. For a long moment, they remain in silence. Ian stares, half lidded, at the lake in front of them. In his mind's eye he sees Cameron's face, a blank mask.
"Yes," Cameron says finally. "She's worse."
"Do you ever think about doing something about her?" Ian shifts his head so that he has a slight view of Cameron from the corner of his eye.
"There's nothing to do," Cameron answers flatly. "She won't go anywhere, and I can't force her. I'm only sixteen."
"What about your Aunt?" Ian asks.
"Fat lot of good she does. She just sits around in front of the goddamned TV. I don't think she even remembers I live there. She just bitches at my Mom and goes to work and comes back and bitches some more."
"But she could help you...," Ian's voice trails off. He's grasping for straws now, and he knows it. He doesn't do this with Cameron.
"No, she can't. She doesn't want to help us. She just wants to leech off of Mom's insurance settlement. So long as that money's still coming she'll be around. When the money's gone she's gone," Cameron answers.
"What are you going to do?" Ian lowers his head. The pressure behind his eyes is back now, and he had to squeeze them shut to keep his tears from falling. Cameron refuses to cry, so Ian wants to cry for him. But not now.
"There's nothing I can do," Cameron answers.
"Is it...," Ian places his hand around Cameron's arm gently. "...Getting any better?"
He feels like something is being pulled out of him. Ghostly tendrils wrapped around his ribs sever slowly with an almost audible tearing noise. Each breath feels as though his life will slide out of him. Something rises from his lungs, a cloud of cold breath, and waits at the back of his throat for the final blow to come.
"No," Cameron replies flatly.
The tears almost slip out this time, but Ian squeezes his eyes shut even harder. It takes him a moment to register that his grip has tightened on Cameron's arm. He lets go and takes a deep breath.
"Are you... afraid?" Ian asks. He's struck by just what a weak phrase that is. 'afraid.' People are 'afraid' when they think someone might tell a secret of theirs. People are 'afraid' when they watch horror movies. People are 'afraid' when tree outside their window casts spooky shadows at night. People aren't afraid when they're going blind. It's something beyond that, something too obscure to name and too powerful to even identify.
"I'm not afraid," Cameron answers bravely. Ian can hear the lie in his voice plain as day.
"Does... does it hurt?" he whispers. His voice seems to scratch at the back of his throat. He almost wants to take the words back, almost, because it's a stupid question. Of COURSE it hurts, emotionally if not in any other way. He's an artist losing his eyes, for god's sake. He has trouble even getting out of bed some days. It was a miracle he was even feeling well enough to come to the beach.
"Not... really," Cameron whispers. He lets his head fall onto Ian's, and the weight is soothing, like a reminder that they're here, right now, together, like a reminder that Cameron is still alive.
Even if he won't be for long...
"I'm just dizzy sometimes. And I can FEEL my eyes getting worse. I keep looking back on things I painted just a few weeks ago, and if I try and change something, I can't seem to get the same lines. I don't know where my hands are going anymore." he is silent for a moment. "I'm scared. I always know what to do when I'm painting. Lines, shading, depth – I always knew how to do that stuff. For as long as I can remember I've been drawing and painting. But now... now I look at whatever I've just finished, it looks awful. It looks like something I would have made when I was a kid, you know? It's like I'm going backwards. Getting worse and worse as time goes on."
'You're not,' Ian wants to say, but it's a lie. He's seen Cameron's newest sketches, his latest works, and he's seen the deterioration captured on paper right in front of him. He thinks that seeing that art must be like looking through Cameron's eyes – everything is slightly off, clumsy, nervous.
"You can relearn," Ian breathes. He hates the words even as they pour out of them. He hates that he's desperate enough to lie like this, hates that he knows Cameron knows he's lying, hates that he's hurting him like this. "The Doctors can't say for certain that you'll be entirely blind. You can relearn."
Cameron snorts bitterly, his ribs bumping Ian's chest. For a moment it seems as if all that hurt, all that bitterness is making itself know from a place inside of Cameron that he doesn't want to see.
"I've got the worst kind of macular degeneration. My eyes are getting weaker and weaker. The Doctors caught it too late. There's not much hope of me keeping my eyesight, even a little bit of it," Cameron all but spits. 'Give up. Just stop trying to hope,' his tone seems to say.
Ian reaches out, rakes his fingers through the sand. It's like watching a movie. There is no connection to the hand, to the bone and muscle and skin tissue in front of him.
"You don't need art to be alive," he whispers finally, voice wet with the tears that seemed to have migrated from his eyes to pool at the back of his throat. This is it – the ultimate betrayal.
"I do!" Cameron grinds out with a vehemence that Ian can feel physically in the tightening of his skin. "You have everything! You're smart. You're gonna make it into college someday. Yeah, your Mom's an overachiever and your Dad's never home, but they're THERE. They're physically THERE for you. I don't even have that most of the time! My Mom's hiding behind the couch or something, talking to someone who's not there, and my Aunt, well, She can go drive off a cliff for all I care. I wish it were her that was sick, not my Mom. She deserves it, at least. You've got your sister, who looks up to you like there's no one else in the world worth idolizing, and you've got your friends. All I've ever had is my art. Ever since I was little kid, back when we went for two weeks with electricity because Mom forgot to pay the bill. I sat in the friggin' dark and drew. My art was all that mattered to me. And it still is! Art is everything I need to – to feel complete. It's everything. And now everything is leaving me."
Ian holds his breath, feeling the sharp words cut through his skin, leaving burning saline deposits, turning his blood to something like acid. He already knew all this – always knew it. But there was always a line keeping that reality from being spoken aloud. Cameron knew Ian knew – they never spoke of art and careers and the unfairness of it all. And Ian knew that Cameron knew that he loved him more than he'd ever be loved in return. It had always been there, a dark cloud in the back of his mind, and Ian had long since accepted it, embraced it. He loves Cameron too much to care that there's always something else. He loves Cameron too much to want him to change himself, to equalize the playing field.
But now the words have been spoken. They hover in the air, a solid presence, like pebbles ghosting across his skin, freezing and painful in a place so deep inside him he can't even pinpoint it.
Cameron sighs, falls back suddenly, like he understands that he's gone too far. He doesn't offer up any explanation, and Ian knows that it's because he understands that there's nothing he can say. They both knew, all along, just how everything fit together.
Ian shuts his eyes, and a second later the tears are streaming down his face like a rainstorm. He knows they're dripping onto Cameron's arm, but he doesn't care. He thinks somehow that Cameron needs to feel them, needs to use them as a reminder of just how much he is loved. A bitter taste fills his mouth. He's grateful suddenly. Grateful and hollow. Cameron won't cry, so Ian will cry for him. He'll dispel all of the darkness, all of the anger, all of the fear, all of the pure despair, even if it means crying forever, even if it means forming a new sea with the ocean of his tears. And he's absurdly pleased that it's him that's crying, that they're close enough that he can do this. With his eyes closed, he can imagine them, joined at the shoulder just like he's always wanted them to be.
What does loving someone really mean, he wonders suddenly. He loves Cameron. He's never doubted this. He's never needed affirmation. He didn't even need Cameron to reciprocate, even though he knows that he does. He's never doubted that they're in love, deeply in love, close enough to understand each other without words or body language. It's a feeling that stretches so far in him that it seems to extend beyond his body, covering everything he touches with a thin, ever-expanding layer, invisible to the naked eye. But if someone were to ask him what it means to love someone, really love someone, he couldn't say it. All words fall short of this feeling. There's no way to describe it. He feels pitiful for even trying.
He takes a deep breath, and the tears slow, even though they don't stop completely. He sits up, off of Cameron's side, and repeats the action. In. Out.
"I'm sorry," he says at last. As if on cue, the tears pick up, but still not as badly as before. "So sorry."
He reaches up, watching his arms like he's watching a movie, unable to connect the hands wrapping around Cameron's throat with himself. He tightens his grip and leans forwards instinctively. His mind is blank save for fascination at the action in front of him. He sees Cameron's hands rise, conditioned by survival and movies and TV shows and a million other things so minute and subtle Ian can't even recall them. They hesitate. And then they fall back to his sides.
Without consciously deciding to, he crawls on top of Cameron, tightening his grip. He can feel the pulse racing against his palms, but it doesn't feel real, more like something he imagines. He feels as Cameron finally begins to struggle. He feels him start to kick, raise his hands, try clumsily to pry Ian off. It takes no effort to resist. It could almost not be happening. This might almost be a dream.
He holds on as best he can, savoring the muted sensation of the tips of his finger digging into flesh. His hands hold Cameron's throat like a morbid but sincere embrace, needing to hold onto something with a will that is more their own than Ian's.
He keeps embracing, even when the muscles aren't contracting anymore, even when the pulse fades away. He stares at the tear marks on Cameron's shirt, which should be rising and falling with the steadiness of his breath but which is still and calm.
And then he's aware of his tears again, and their warmth on his face brings him back. It's his hands now, and they're strangling, not embracing. Ian lets go abruptly and falls on the sand, across Cameron's limp hand, too miserable to move. The oxygen seems to be ghosting in and out of his own lungs without passing through his nostrils. He's cold and tired and filled with a sense of loss that makes him dizzy with it's great intensity. His bones seem too heavy, like his entire skeletal system is trying to crush him and tear out of his skin.
How could he explain love to someone who asked him? There aren't any words, any logical proofs, any romantic metaphors or dramatic statements that could ever even present the palest imitations of how he feels, and Ian is sure of it.
This is the absolute evidence of the failure of language and of the existence of such an ideal.
Slowly, painfully, Ian forces himself to sit up. He stares at Cameron's face, searching for familiarity and both finding and missing it. Something is gone. Or maybe something new has settled in – either way, it doesn't matter. For once Ian turns to the cold, hard facts for comforts. This is the one he loves. He doesn't need anything else.
He reaches out slowly, tentatively, and slides his fingers along the contour of Cameron's still-warm cheekbone. He wants to speak but his voice has sunken deep inside of him. It flutters in his chest, forming the words Ian can't say, and then dissipates into a silence that feels like desolation.
I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.
For a second he thinks he's going to cry again. He ducks his head and braces himself. Nothing comes. He looks up again, at Cameron's face, and his hair, blowing in the light breeze. He looks so vulnerable, scared and not whole. But that is all an artist is without his art. Ian smiles bitterly. He cups Cameron's cheek for a minute, leaning forward to rest his head on his chest. He stops himself. He doesn't want to remember Cameron's body as anything but alive, or his lungs as anything but breathing. He draws back, taking his hand away, and pulls the beach blanket out from beneath his legs. He wraps it around Cameron because he looks cold, making sure to tuck it in so that it will stay. Then he sits back and turns to face the wide expanse of beach. His sister's silhouette dances on the horizon, an ephemeral blur merged with the ocean and the sky.
He will sit for a while longer, and then he will go and get her, because it's cold and she's only wearing her white sundress. She won't come back on her own because she's outside of herself, outside of her body, dancing in the breeze and the cold water and the gray blanket of sky that seems so possible to reach today. She won't think of the cold or remember the body that she has to go back to eventually. Ian will bring her an extra towel and wrap her up and coax her back.
But not right now. Now he lays down under the fingers of Cameron's limp hand and smiles, despite the blinding pain, despite the pure white burning of despair.
Author's notes: ... I think my therapist would think of this as a step backwards.
This story is really weird for me, because it started out so drastically different. I was listening to the song 'Innocent Moon' by the composer Akira Yamaoka (I.E the guy who created Silent Hill!) and I started thinking about my trip to the beach. Since it's such a sad, melancholy song, happy memories of playing on the sand created a contrast that I really liked somehow. So after that, every time I heard that song, I saw a family playing by the water, laughing and smiling. Then, somehow, I started making it more reflective, like somebody coming back to a place where they had once been happy but couldn't be anymore. And then... I started writing. Yeah.
I'm very surprised by this. It's outside of my usual spectrum. I'm a pessimist and a lover of all things grotesque and horrifying, but I usually like everything to work out in the end, and for a happy ending to rise from the ashes. I don't like stories where things end badly. Although, I don't know if that's necessarily what happened here - it's up to you to decide.
Please leave a review! I love to get feedback, and constructive criticism is much appreciated! Because this is just so unlike my other works, I'd like to hear what you liked and didn't like. And if you've read my other works, do you think this kind of sad story is okay in comparison, or is it so far outside of my comfort zone that it's clumsy and poorly done?
Well, thank you for reading this far, and thank you even more if you just read all of that rambling mess I call an author's note!