With You, Without You
It all rushes into my head—the first memory of him that doesn't even exist because he was always there. Before birth, after birth, always. Every day, every night, until we were ten and both wanted our own rooms. We still sneaked into each others' rooms and climbed into each others' beds to tell ghost stories until Mom heard us and came to tell us to sleep.
How we used to trick people and tell them that I was him and he was me until I always wanted to be myself and changed my hair, but some people still couldn't tell us apart and how we laughed at that. How he sometimes was so annoying, and he felt the same about me and we argued, but we always, always made up in the end.
How we shared everything—anything. There were no secrets; I knew him like he knew me.
Now we have nothing. It's all lost, just memories that belong only to me, and I don't even know if they can count anymore. Everything is erased when I don't have Jamie to share them with.
Jamie—he doesn't look up, he doesn't know who I am. I could be anyone, but I know him, I know him so well and it still hurts to see him like this. I know why I ran, why I had to get away, and I should have stayed away because God, I can't do this, I can't-
But I'm here now, and I'm alive. I breathe and try hard not to cry, and I am so, so devastated to be standing here, seeing nothing has changed even though I realize I hoped it would have. I have hoped it while I was away, on the drive here, ever since it happened. But I can't pretend anymore—his eyes are still distant, his body language still something foreign I can't read, he's still lost. And I am, too.
I was scared before, and I'm still scared, and I am more scared than ever when I stand in my living room again, looking at my brother. He doesn't look at me. He holds a blue ball in his hands, and he looks so thin. So young. Jamie. I have come here to let him go, to let me go, to get some sort of closure, but how am I supposed to do that? I can't even take a step closer. I'm standing frozen here, and all I want to do is turn around and run and forget that it happened, forget that he existed. Maybe it would be easier to think that I was all alone from the beginning, to think that he was just a dream. I don't have a brother; I don't have a twin. I don't have Jamie at all-
I see Charlie scramble to his feet and walk up to me, and he places a hand on my shoulder. I jerk as if I never noticed him because I didn't, really. His face turns apologetic, but he doesn't say sorry.
"Hey, Josua," he says instead, and I think he realizes why I can't answer. He looks back at Jamie, and then he nods. "I'm leaving you two alone."
I want to say no, don't leave me alone, but he walks away and then it's too late. Like everything is too late.
I think of when they told me about him. I didn't believe them. Mostly because I didn't want to, I think. It's so obvious, maybe more so now than ever, and I remember Dr. Taylor's words. Time can give you a new perspective. I think he meant it in a positive way, but this—this perspective—is nothing. Too little time since I was last here, and still so much has happened. I realize again that I can't tell Jamie anything. He won't know about my life, about my friends, about Elliot. I just want to scream at him, tell him to stop playing, it's enough now. Come back.
I spoke to Dr. Taylor on the phone yesterday before we came here, and he told me to not have any expectations. Of course, I was stupid enough to have them. I rub my eyes, knowing I can't stand here forever. I slowly take a step closer, and then one more, and one more, until I stand just in front of Jamie on the carpet. I sink down to sit slowly, cross-legged, close, ignoring the pain in my leg. I feel the heat of his body. I hear how he breathes. If I listen closely, maybe I can even hear his heartbeat. He's alive, too. He's alive, and he's his own, and he deserves that I see who he is now, after the accident, even if it is hard.
"Jamie," I say, and I brush the hair from his eyes. He needs a haircut. He never liked his hair this long.
I take the ball from him, catch his hands in mine. His mouth moves, he nods with his head, trying to focus his eyes on me without success. I think he smiles. I want him to smile, so maybe it's just my imagination, but I don't care. He did smile.
"Yeah," I tell him, breathing out. "It's Josua. I'm home now."
I sit on our back porch, turning my phone in my hands, staring at the long lists of missed calls and texts. Most of them are from Elliot and Heather, some from Lindsay, and even one is from Michael.
I never told them that I came back home. I couldn't. I know Heather came by the apartment once and talked to Dad—the time she left my crutches for me—but I don't know what he said to her. I know Elliot never showed up unless Dad simply hadn't told me if he did. First, I thought I was right, that he couldn't take my past and my tears and everything about me, but why did he call me so many times then, even though I hadn't answered? His last call was from this morning, even. I heard it, and I was so close to answering, but I didn't. It's been three weeks now since I last saw him, and I'm dying to talk to him, but... I think I'm afraid of what he will say. I regret the text I sent to him that night, but I can't take it back. Maybe he calls to confirm it. If he does, then it's over, so as long as I don't answer him, I can pretend he still wants me, that he calls to tell me that I'm wrong, that he doesn't deserve someone better, that we can still be together.
"Josua?" Mom sticks her head out through the open patio door, and I look up. "Someone is here for you."
My hear starts to beat quickly. Elliot.
It's not him that steps outside. Of course it's not him, how could it be? He doesn't even live here. But Lucas does.
"Hey," he says, a bit strained, sitting down beside me. "Your mom told my mom that you were home when they met yesterday." He's good at hiding the accusation—why didn't I call him and tell him myself?—but I sense it.
I put my phone away and nod. He hugs me suddenly, quick and firm.
"I missed you," he mumbles. "We all have."
"I missed you too," I say, and then I realize it's true. I have missed them. I have missed this house and this street and this town, and my old school. It's not mine anymore, though. That's also a part of the past.
"Are you staying here now?" Lucas asks me.
I shrug weakly. "I don't know," I lie.
"I hope you do," he says. "You're my best friend."
I look down at the phone beside me on the bench. I have Elliot and Heather back at Dad's, but Lucas is here. And Ben and Anna. And Jamie...
"I'm staying for the summer, at least," I finally say. I have to face our birthday and the day it happened. I don't know how I'm going to manage, but I know I have to. It's not like I can just lie down and die to get away from it.
"So you're not going back to school?" Lucas wonders. "I thought you might go your senior year with us, since you're back and all."
I shake my head. "No, I won't be a senior. I have to repeat junior year; I kind of screwed up all of my classes."
He makes a little grimace. "That sucks."
I nod, but I don't really agree. In the beginning, I really didn't want to have to repeat the year, but now I actually feel kind of relieved. I made bad grades all the time, even when I was home schooled. I only got good grades because everyone felt sorry for me, and I know that. It's better this way.
"So you move back to your dad's after summer, then?" Lucas asks.
He's quiet for a while. "Do you want to do something? We could go to a movie? Or maybe just go to the mall and hang out?"
I look down at my hands. "I'm kind of tired."
I know he's disappointed. He stays for a little longer, but it's not the same between us anymore. I know it's me; I have changed too much. I can't be the person he expects me to be, and I don't even want to try. So when he finally leaves, I just feel relieved.
I try to be with Jamie. As the days slowly pass, I'm around him as much as I can, trying to participate in his care. Sometimes I help him get dressed in the mornings, and Amber shows me his training program. I get used to touching him, his stiff limbs, the way he doesn't want to do things, and sometimes it's like I can see the small glimpses of him, but I know it's only my imagination. He's not in there. In a way, I think that is what I need to know. To make sure.
We are outside a lot, in the garden, and I tell him about my life. I whisper in his ear about Elliot even if he doesn't respond. I know it's not because he doesn't want to, it's because he can't. If I close my eyes, I can imagine his old self, the way he would smile at what I tell him and answer, and maybe my memories can do something for me after all. Maybe they are good to have, when I can still picture him in my head.
I lie down on my stomach, placing my chin on my folded arms, and I stare at the grass. It's summer, and the sun is warm. I wonder what Elliot does. I know they have graduated by now, that he will work in his cousin's music shop, but not all days. I guess he hangs out with Michael a lot when he's free. Maybe Michael tells him to forget about me, that I will hurt him. Maybe that's what he wanted to say, that time he called. To stay away.
Jamie falls asleep next to me. He still sleeps a lot, but Mom says it's normal, that he probably always will. Always is a long time. It's hard to picture him being like this when he's twenty, or thirty, or seventy. There are suddenly so many other things to worry about. Who's going to take care of him when Mom can't? How will his life be? Will people be nice to him?
I turn around so I can watch him. I asked Mom to cut his hair, and she did. I went through his closet too and threw out a lot of stuff she has bought for him. I know what he liked before, and he should still have it, not the clothes Mom wants him to wear.
His face is so calm when he's asleep. I touch it gently, without waking him up. He has no worries about his future. About me. One day I may be able to accept this, but that day is not today. I think of what Dr. Taylor said, of my conclusion in his living room, that I should come home and deal with this, but... I'm not ready yet. I'm not ready to stop being angry and sad and hurt. I hate being here and seeing him and dreaming that he will come back, because he won't. I still just want to grab him and shake him and scream at him. Instead, I just look at his face—my face—wishing everything was different.
"What do you think?" Mom says as she shows me the store bought cake she came home with. It has whipped cream and strawberries on top, the sort of cake that I usually like, but now I stand in the doorway to the kitchen with my arms crossed, frowning at it.
"I don't want a cake," I grumble.
"We need to celebrate your birthday, honey," Mom says and puts the cake on the counter.
She doesn't answer. She just starts to bring down plates from a cabinet, and I can't stand seeing her try to act like this day is like any other birthday, so I turn around and limp away. I can't be happy turning seventeen; I don't want to celebrate. I hide in my room instead, staring at the gifts I got from Mom and Albert this morning. I can't even bring myself to open them.
Sometime later, there is a soft knock on my door, but the person on the other side doesn't wait for my reply. They just open up and stick in their head. It's Charlie.
At first, it was a little strange to be around him when I think of the time I tried to kiss him and how he sometimes reminds me of Jordan. Charlie has been nothing but friendly, not mentioning anything that could be awkward between us. He seems to sense my struggles around Jamie because he pushes me forward when I need it and stands back when I've had enough. I wish I could be as natural around my brother as he is, be happy and a great guy like him. He's a friend, not just Jamie's assistant, to both of us.
"We're having cake now," he says, smiling brightly as though he is giving me no choice. "Come on."
"Mom sent you?" I ask, but I rise from my bed without protest. I follow him out to the back porch. The regular china is on the table, not Mom's finest, and there are no balloons or singing. I shoot Mom a look and she gives a little smile as I sit down next to Jamie, but I hardly even look at him. Last year was so much different; this is not even close to the party we threw back then. We can't even pretend it is.
Two weeks later, I wake up on the day it happened. I want to lie in my bed all day, but I'm too scared of doing it. I remember when I did that after I told Elliot about Jamie, how I nearly got lost inside myself, and I don't want that to happen again. So, I force myself to get up, take a shower, get dressed, and eat breakfast with Jamie even though I can hardly breathe and I want to cry the entire time. The pain is worse than ever.
I have to be alone, but Mom and Albert are both home, and Ricky is here with Jamie, so I slip outside to the garden. Our backyard is leafy and green, and I limp to sit under one of the trees, the one Jamie and I used to climb in. He always reached the top faster than I did, I remember.
I think I might die of a heart attack the way it beats in my chest. There are only a couple of hours left. A year ago, we sat on Anderson's porch and smoked that cigarette. We fed kids with lemonade and hot dogs. Lucas called my phone and wondered where we were.
C'mon, everyone's already here!
The bike and the tire. The car.
The pain in my leg and arm. The pain when I saw Jamie. How I wanted to scream his name, but I couldn't make a sound. The long days at the hospital. The casts. Seeing Jamie for the first time. Being so, so scared. Being so-
It's Dad's voice, and he's coming out through the patio door to the porch. I sit up straighter, surprised—what is he doing here? I didn't know he would come. Of course, he knows what day it is today. Maybe it's not strange that he felt he had to be here.
He walks down the small step and makes his way over the yard, the yard Jamie and I used to play in—football and bug hunting in the summer, snow wars in the winter, sunbathing and talking about boys and girls when we got older...
Dad is close now, and he sits down on his heels.
"How are you doing?" he asks me, genuinely concerned. I realize how much Dad has changed since I moved in with him. Gone is the grumpy old man with the younger girlfriend, gone is the dad who didn't care anymore, who just fled and thought only of himself. We both ran, but he managed to deal with his issues through me, the remaining son, and now he seems to have found his way back to life. I'm a bit envious of him and Mom. They have both found their own ways to deal with everything.
"What do you think?" I mutter as an answer. I pick up a fallen leaf and start to rip it into pieces, avoiding his gaze.
"It's not an easy day for any of us."
Doesn't he think I know that? No day is easy, and 'not easy' is too weak of a phrase, too weak an explanation as to how I feel. 'Not an easy day' is a normal day. Today doesn't even have a word.
"Dad, I want to be alone," I force out. He sighs.
"I understand. If you're up to it later, you have a visitor."
I shake my head. I don't want to see anyone today. I don't know how to act around my old friends anymore, I don't know why they keep coming, and I can't-
I freeze. I hold the rest of the leaf still in my hands, lift my head to stare at Dad.
"Elliot?" I say in a small voice.
"He came by the other day, wondering where you were. He said you don't pick up his calls." Dad watches me closer. "I hope it was okay to bring him here. I thought you two should talk."
Talk. I breathe in and out, glancing at the house. Is he in there? What am I supposed to say to him?
"Can I tell him to come out?" Dad asks patiently. "I know he wants to see you."
Elliot. God, I have missed him. But why is he here? What does he want?
"Okay," I finally manage to whisper. I watch as Dad rises and walks away, disappearing inside the house again, and then I avert my gaze, staring at the grass while I wait.
I sense more than see when Elliot approaches. It's something in the air. I don't hear his soft steps, but I feel his eyes on me when he stops a few feet away.
"Hey," he says, and he sounds unsure. It's more a question than a greeting. I can't help but look up at him, and he's not different. He looks the same: red hair, brown eyes. He stands with his hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans, a few feet away from me. I see him bite his lower lip nervously.
"Hey," I say quietly, dropping the rest of the leaf and putting my hands in my lap so I won't reach out and try to touch him.
"Can I sit down?" he asks carefully.
He takes the same place Dad just sat in, crossing his legs. I watch his fingers start to rip at the grass.
"I spoke to your dad a lot on the ride here," he says. "I hope you don't mind that I came with him."
"I don't mind," I mumble.
"I've tried to call you. A lot of times."
He sighs. He takes a deep breath and asks, "Did you mean it? What you wrote to me in that text?"
He almost looks afraid, but of what? My answer?
"If you did... I mean, it's okay if you don't want to..." He stops himself, then adds, "I'm so sorry, okay? I just don't know what I did wrong."
"You didn't do anything wrong," I say quietly. "I am wrong."
"You mean you didn't mean it?"
"I mean I'm fucked up. I can't... you saw me. I can't do anything without crying." I hate how the words are almost true now. I swallow.
"It's okay to cry," Elliot says.
I shake my head furiously. "Not all the time. And it's not okay, what happened to Jamie. Everyone keeps telling me I have to live and be happy anyway but I can't! I can't do it! I came here to deal with it but I can't do that either, and I-"
The lump in my throat grows too big. I hide my face in my hands, but it only takes a second and Elliot has his arms around me. I can't help but lean into him, letting him hold me even though I promised myself that he was better than this, that he shouldn't have to be here all the time. I'm so fucking needy and he shouldn't...
He just holds me tighter, and I feel him lean his cheek against my hair.
"It's okay," I hear him repeat.
Somewhere I find the strength to sit up straighter, and I twist so I can put both my hands against his chest and push him away. He has to let go of me, put both his hands and elbows in the grass behind him to keep himself from falling completely backwards, and his eyes widen as he stares at me, his mouth parted slightly in shock.
"Stop saying that!" I shout at him. "Because it's not! Did you see him? Did you see Jamie?"
Mutely, he shakes his head.
"It's not okay," I repeat, punching my fist down hard in the grass. "It's not!"
I wipe my face angrily. "Just leave me alone." I'm about to turn around so I won't have to see him leave again, but he speaks up.
"I can't do that."
This time I'm the one staring at him. "Why not?"
"Because I like you." He gives me a weak smile, it's barely there. "Your dad said you will move back with him after the summer?"
I blink, a bit surprised by the sudden change of subject. It drags me out of the anger, hearing those words again. Despite what I did, he likes me. Here I am, a total mess even after all this time, and he still says he likes me. I give him nothing but crap and he likes me. I suddenly feel almost lightheaded.
"I won't go to senior year with you," I finally manage to blurt out.
"I know. He said that too. My art class is for both juniors and seniors."
"I won't take art."
He doesn't seem too surprised. "We might have lunch together," he retorts.
"What if we don't?"
"Does it matter? We have time after school. We have weekends. We don't have to be together all the time in school. We weren't before."
"You don't want to be with me," I say, asking him to confirm it.
"Yes, I do," he says softly. "Do you want to be with me?"
When I don't answer, he moves closer, and I let him. I feel his breath on my skin as he puts his face close to mine. When his lips slowly touch mine, I reach out and grab him, pressing him closer, pressing our mouths together and kissing him hard. I kiss him and press him back to lie in the grass, and I forget everything. I want to forget everything. The house, the neighbors, Jamie, the accident, me, and I roam his body with my hands, expose his skin. I tug at the button of his jeans, ready to push my hand down, when he suddenly grips my wrist.
I scramble up to sit, scowling down at him. "You said you wanted me!"
He sits up while he straightens his clothes: dragging down his t-shirt, closing his fly. "I do. I mean, I want a relationship, not... not fucking in your parents' garden." He blushes.
I feel the way I start shaking. I was using him again, for my own purposes. Not only for that—I feel how much I have missed him, how much I like him and how badly I want to be with him. What am I doing? I'm just destroying it again, fucking crying again.
"I'm sorry." I wipe my face.
I shake my head, taking a deep breath. "No."
"You know what day it is today?"
He nods, and his eyes don't leave mine for a second.
"I'm not doing so good." I sniffle and look away.
"I know. I mean, I understand that." He slowly moves closer until he sits right in front of me, finding my gaze with his again. He grabs my hand, twines his fingers into mine.
"I'm just so scared," I whisper. "He's just... gone."
Somehow, he must hear what I don't say because he holds my hand tighter. "I won't leave you, okay? I mean it."
I shake my head slowly. "You can't promise that." No one can; life is too fragile.
"Can't you give me a chance, at least?" he says quietly, almost pleading.
I stare into his eyes. I love those brown eyes. I find myself nodding because even though I have no idea of what he really sees in me, I know I see everything in him. And I just can't let that go again.
I don't want to lose him, too.
My hand feels damp in his, but he still doesn't let go. I look at him and force a smile, and he smiles back immediately. I take a deep breath. I can do this.
I start talking. It pours out of me, everything I haven't been able to tell anyone else. What I can't tell Mom, or Dad, or Dr. Taylor, I just spill out to Elliot, and he listens, just like the last time.
It's all about Jamie, before and after. I want him to know my brother. I want that when he sees him, he won't only see that broken boy, and I want that when he sees me, he sees the whole me, not only the broken Josua. I think I will start to heal. I can't explain it, but when I look at Elliot, I can suddenly see a future. I didn't before, but now I do. I see him and me, together. It still scares the hell out of me, and I don't want to leave Jamie behind, but I have no choice. This is not just about me anymore; it's about Elliot, too. And Jamie. I know I can't change what happened, but what happens next lies in my hands.
I sniffle and wipe my face while Elliot sits quietly, and I like that. He understands what I need.
We stay outside for a long time, lying down in the grass, and I keep talking. I'm on my back, staring up at the green leaves on the tree. He's propped up on his elbow, slowly caressing my stomach under my shirt, and I love his hand on my skin. It's warm, comforting. Assuring.
All the memories I have, I tell him. How my world shattered that day, a year ago. How it still hurts. How it will always hurt.
"I just don't know what to do to make it better," he mumbles once I'm done. I'm done for the day. I know I will have to talk more, probably many times more, but not today. Maybe not so much to him. I will have Dr. Taylor, too. I know I can't always dump everything on Elliot. I don't want him to be my therapist, either. I want him to be my boyfriend.
"There isn't really anything anyone can do," I say up to the sky. "It's just how it is."
The sun starts to set, and we both sit up. I'm hungry and a bit cold, and he must be too, but he doesn't even complain about it. He didn't interrupt me once.
"You want something to eat?" I ask, and he smiles, relieved.
"Yeah. That would be great."
We rise and start walking over the yard. I feel calmer now. I still have a long way to go—I know that—but for now, I think I can handle it, in my own way. Maybe not staying, maybe not accepting it, but at least handling it.
Dad is talking with Albert in the living room, but I ignore them both when they look up as we walk past them. Jamie is in the kitchen with Mom when we step inside. I see Elliot glance at him, but I pretend not to, just finding Mom's gaze.
"Mom, this is Elliot," I say, grabbing his hand again.
"I know. We met when he came in." Mom smiles, but her eyes are sad today. I don't know why it comforts me a bit. I know Mom is the only one really accepting this with Jamie, and I hope that can be me one day. I realize it doesn't mean I have to stop mourning him.
I turn to Elliot.
"That's Jamie," I mumble, gesturing with my head in his direction. Elliot nods. "You want to meet him?" I ask carefully, suddenly afraid that he will say no, afraid of what he will see. I have told him so much about Jamie now.
We slowly move toward the table and sit down, with Jamie to my left and Elliot taking the chair to my right. I try to catch Jamie's gaze, even though it's hard.
"Jamie, this is Elliot. My boyfriend," I say, but his expression doesn't change. I didn't think it would, but it hurts anyway. I turn my head to look at Elliot instead, to see his reaction. I'm trying to smile at him, but I fail. This is not how I wanted to introduce my first boyfriend to my brother, but I know this is all I can get.
I feel Elliot squeeze my hand under the table, as if telling me that I'm not alone. And I know I'm not. Not anymore.
And that was The End.
First, I want to thank you so much for reading this story. I hope you have liked it, and that you like the end too. Second, I would really appreciate if you want to take the time to review. Just a little word, even if you didn't like it. I have written fanfiction before, but this is actually my first long story with my own characters. So it would mean a lot to me to know what you think of it.
I have a new story up. It's a bit different from this, but angst and slash. Hopefully you will read that one too :)
This chapter was beta-read by ohsocyanide - thank you so much!