Chapter 16: Real
Stood this close to him I could see flecks of gold in each silver iris, see each individual black lash that framed his glowing eyes. I felt my head swim; being this close to him, feeling him actually holding me was overwhelming.
I struggled to breath.
“You say there’s nothing that I can say to change your mind,” he said in thick, husky voice. “But there is something I can do.”
His glorious face began to lean towards mine and I closed my eyes bringing my hands up to keep myself balanced as the ground beneath my feet seemed to slip and shift.
I couldn’t see but I could feel the electricity zipping between us, could feel the fire in my chest engulf him as he came closer still. My outstretched hands pushed flat on his tee shirt, as he pulled my body towards his and I felt the cool hardness of his chest beneath the soft, damp fabric.
I didn’t dare open my eyes.
The voice in my head screamed at me to stop him, to stop things going any further. I’d just spent the last few agonising minutes telling him how his feelings for me couldn’t stop us from finding out the truth about how he died. I’d even told him that I was prepared to go back and face Whittaker again, but all reason flew out of my head the moment I had felt his hands on my shoulders. Deep down I knew that if he kissed me, and it was inevitable that that was where things were heading, I would regret it. It would make letting him go all that much harder. The voice shouted as hard as it could but I turned down the dial.
When his lips touched mine the voice disappeared, it completely vanished as I came undone under the sweetness of his kiss.
His hands, which had stayed locked around my shoulders moved slowly down my arms, leaving trails of white hot fire, which felt like they had melted my sleeves away leaving my skin exposed to his touch. I pulled in a ragged breath and my lungs were filled not with air but with him, he completely occupied every bit of me. He felt my lips part as I breathed him in and he deepened the kiss, edging his tongue across my bottom lip and I moaned a desperate sound into his mouth.
His hands didn’t stop when they came down to circle my wrists briefly; he brought them in towards my body and gently brushed them up the side of my waist making me quiver. I gripped the fabric of his tee shirt trying to pull him closer, there was total contact between our bodies, but it still wasn’t enough. My tongue slipped forwards to meet his and I felt, and heard, a surprised - slip from his mouth.
His hands carried on tracing up my sides, making my knees feel like they were dissolving, until they finally came to rest at the back of my neck. His long fingers wound into my hair holding my head firmly as he crushed his lips against mine.
I had been kissed before but never like this. Never in a way that made me want pull myself into the other person, crawl under their skin and live inside them. The fact that this was Drew, a boy who I had fantasised about kissing like this since we had met but knew that I never could, was overwhelming. I wanted to envelope myself into him and it felt like he couldn’t get close enough to me either, it felt like he was kissing me with a force that was trying to fuse us together forever.
As every one of my joints liquefied the world streaked away, leaving nothing but the warmth of his lips moving against mine, the feel of his fingers entwined in my hair and the wild beating of my heart which was thundering in my ears.
His tongue continued to dance with mine and I heard myself whimper into his mouth. In any other circumstance I would have been horrified with embarrassed but the sound only made Drew pull my body even closer to his. There was no space left between us, I was sure that our knees and hips had melted together and my hands were crushed between our chests.
Beneath my palms I felt the thump of his heart and I gasped, snatching my hands away from his chest as if I had been stung. I staggered back and his hands fell away from my neck, swinging awkwardly down to his sides.
“I felt your heart,” I gasped in an incredulous whisper. “Drew, it was beating.”
His eyes were bright and his cheeks, which were always so pale, were flushed.
“It’s you, Beth. I told you, you make me feel alive.”
“Drew, we shouldn’t-”
“Please don’t,” he interrupted my unsteady plea. “Don’t say that.” His silver eyes bored into mine, they still shone with desire but they had grown wider, wider with naked desperation. The shadows which usually marred the delicate skin below his eyes were completely gone.
He cautiously reached towards me with both hands, never taking his eyes away from mine, and gently grasped my right hand in both of his; he lifted it back towards his chest. He uncurled my fingers slowly and lightly pressed my palm flat on his chest, holding it above where his heart was. My eyes widened and I drew in a quick breath as I felt the swift thumping of his heart. He moved his hands away from mine and a smile tugged the edges of his lips when I involuntarily flexed my fingers, keeping my hand held over his heart instead of letting it fall away.
I looked into his face with awe, stunned at the feeling of life beneath my hand. He took a small step towards me and I saw the sole question in his eyes.
Never taking my eyes away from his I nodded once, providing him with the permission he was silently asking for. I saw the quick flash of his teeth as his face broke into a grin and then my eyes closed as his hands tugged my hips forwards towards his. I sighed in defeat, my desperate plea lost under the pressure of his warm lips and firm fingers.
I felt his heart begin to beat faster and faster under my hand, proving that I affected him in the same way that he affected me. I feverishly moved my hands to the nape of his neck clutching at his hair, pulling him into me. Our chests crushed together until his heart beat up against mine, matching frantic beats which hammered together in harmony until they morphed into one single organ.
I knew that when I eventually pulled away and allowed my head to clear that I would pay for this careless, wanton kissing, but the overwhelming desire and ecstasy I felt as he held me kept those dark thoughts at bay.
It was Drew who released me from the kiss. As he pulled back and my knees wobbled beneath me, my eyes widened as I noticed that his hair had changed from the colour of ash to a glossy deep brown.
“See,” Drew stated at my incredulous expression. He obviously could feel the change that our kiss had made. “When you haven’t got Heaven on your mind so much, things change. This is what I want; I want to stay here with you.”
For the second time that night I flopped to the floor gasping. His hair, like a crown of autumn leaves, framed his beautiful face and made the silver of his eyes appear more inhuman, more agonising to look at than before. The stark contrast between the warm brown and piercing silver worked its way inside the warmth our kiss had surrounded me in and made me shiver. As the cocoon fell away I felt the nip in the damp air for the first time since he had put his hands on me.
“You can’t, Drew,” I explained in an anguished whisper, looking up at his face as a feeling of utter despondence washed over me. I touched my lips, they were swollen from the force of his kiss and I stared into his silver eyes, knowing that my face showed the complete defeat I was feeling inside. “No matter how much we want things to be different, you don’t belong here with me, you belong up there,” I gestured upward towards the misty sky and his eyebrows pulled together making him look like a sulky child, a sulky cherub. “People say that the eyes are the windows to the soul and your eyes haven’t changed. They are still the eyes of an angel.”
“But Beth, my hair-”
“Doesn’t change anything,” I interrupted him, sounding cold and dethatched. “Drew, if I had been anyone else, any other person who saw you in the market that day, then we would have simply got on with doing what we have to do.”
“But you are changing me, Beth. Look at me,” he tried again.
“I am looking at you,” my voice rose to an exasperated shout as I stood back up to face him, my body stiff and tense. “All I do is look at you, Drew. I look at you and see a boy who I have fallen in love with, but I also see a boy who has been left hanging on, not really living, waiting to get the rewards the afterlife has to offer.” Drew’s face darkened as I carried on. “You’ve been waiting for this for fifteen years, and I won’t be that selfish as to let how I feel about you get in the way.”
We stood for what felt like hours, staring at each other. My face felt tight and I knew it showed the frustration and pain that was charging through my body. It was a standoff, me desperately trying to fight against how much I wanted to give up and agree with him, simply let him love me as I loved him, and him suggesting we give up on the sole reason fate brought us together in the first place.
I played my last card, hoping that something other than his thoughts of being with me, of our kiss, would slice into his brain and make him remember the bigger picture.
“I spoke with your mum again tonight, she didn’t look great.” It was a harsh thing to say but I needed to say something that would remind him of why we were doing this, why I was going back to face Whittaker again. It was hard to do it, hard not to simply let myself climb back into his arms, back into his kiss.
“Don’t.” He flinched like I’d hit him,
“Look, Drew,” I had to keep pushing. “If you really could stay here and be with me, if the pounding inside your chest really meant that you were alive, then you could go and see her yourself. But you can’t, can you?”
He flinched again and took a step back. What a horrible person I was.
“You know I can’t,” he whispered, shaking his head, defeat seeping in his eyes. “I’d do anything to make her feel better, anything to help her move on.”
Summoning up all my objectivity, objectivity that had been lost, smothered by the longing that our kiss had boiled inside me, I struck whilst the iron was hot. I waded through the clouds of desire that threatened to pull me under again and grasped at the memory of his mother’s face when I had told her that I knew Drew.
“I gave her your artwork,” I said. He audibly swallowed, gulping back sorrow which ravaged his face, his nostrils flared as he tried to hold back his emotions at the thought of his mum looking at his art after all these years. “And I promised her I would find out what happened to you. I can’t make good on that promise if you won’t let me.”
He dropped his head into his hands and a strangled groan, the sound of despair and anguish, slipped through his long fingers into the air between us.
“Don’t.” He whispered again.
“So you see,” I felt hollow, the glorious feeling that had coursed through me whilst we were kissing seemed like a memory from a million years ago. “I have to go back to confront Whittaker, not just for you, but for you mum.”
He nodded slowly, he knew I was right. Regardless of what had just happened, regardless of our feelings for each other, we had to do what fate had brought us together to do.
He reached out to touch my face, but instead of the pressure of his fingertips as he brushed my cheek, I felt a tingle, the searing white heat of his ghost touch. My eyes snapped to his and the silver burned brighter than ever.
The moment had passed.
I curled into a ball beneath my bed sheets, unable to get warm. I felt like I had been turned inside out. The horror I’d felt when Mr. Sharpe had told us about David Pearson, the agony I had felt when I had turned away from Drew last week, the fear I’d experienced when Whitaker had pressed me against the wall were all nothing compared to this. I would have welcomed feeling like a rock wearing a pair of shoes, or feeling like a zombie shuffling through life with open arms. I would have welcomed anything compared to this. I felt like an animal that had been skinned, like my flesh had been stretched and scraped with a knife until all remnants of life had been removed.
Another shiver racked my body as my teeth chattered and I pulled the covers around me tighter. I’d go back to the snooker hall tomorrow to confront Whittaker again, and if I got the truth out of him, if I was able to prove once and for all that he had killed Drew, then it would be finished. It would be finished and I would never see Drew again. How could I possibly ever get warm again knowing that?
A dry sob worked out from between my lips and I threw a hand over my mouth. I couldn’t allow myself to think about that, I had to focus on the immediate future and prepare myself to face Whittaker again. If I allowed myself to accept that I would never see Drew again I would be stripped down to nothing.
Beneath my fingers I could still feel how tender my lips were from our kiss. I ran my fingertips back and forth, sinking into the memory of his tongue pushing into my accepting mouth. I bit down on my fingertips, hard. I couldn’t allow myself to think about that either. The memory of our kiss was branded into my head and if I let it, it would be set on continuous replay and I might find myself unable to ever look away from it. I would become a dry husk lost inside my mind, lost inside the memory of a kiss with a boy who didn’t really exist.
God damn in Beth, I berated myself, but the warm, suffocating memory was too powerful. I could feel its warmness inviting me in, inviting me to lie down in it, like a sun-warmed patch of grass and never get up again. It would be so simple, so effortless to close my eyes and get lost in its soft, comforting embrace.
A gust of icy air blew through my open window and my eyes flew open. I could almost see the sun baked blades of grass scatter across my dark room, see the warmth of the memory get tossed into the flurry of air and disappear into the cold, grey night.
I had to get it together. I had to mentally prepare for getting a confession out of Whittaker and I had to be strong enough to let Drew go.
Wednesday morning broke through my curtains with a surprising shaft of sunlight that spilled out across the bedroom floor. But the light was weak and did nothing to lessen the chill that had filled my room from having my window open, and it did nothing to lighten my mood. I shivered, just like I had done all night, and climbed out of bed to slam the window shut. If I could just make myself believe it had been the cold air that had made me shake all night, I might be able to convince myself that today was just another, ordinary day.
It wasn’t, it was D-Day.
“Beth, honey,” said my dad through a mouthful of toast. He was stood at the counter top shoving his breakfast in with one hand and cramming papers into his bag with the other. “I’ve got an early meeting at work today so I could drop you off at school, if you’d like?”
“That would be amazing, Dad, thanks.” I felt my heart slow down, not to a normal pace, it was still hammering fast enough to make me feel sick, but at least it wasn’t threatening to explode anymore. If my dad drove me to school there was no way I could stop at the park or the market to see Drew. No way I could put myself in the position where he could try to dissuade me from my plan; no way I could allow myself to be kissed by him again, regardless of how much my body screamed for his touch.
I had text Jess to tell her that Dad was taking me in and to offer her a lift. She’d replied saying that she was running late, something to do with a hair straightener malfunction so she’d meet up with me at school.
“Thanks, Dad,” I said again as I lifted my hood up and opened the car door.
“No worries, love. I bet you’re glad you didn’t have to walk in this, aren’t you?” My dad ducked his head to look up at me as I leaned back into the car to nod. The rain was already running off the front of my hood and was leaving dark spots on the car seat. My dad grimaced at the damp splodges and then winked at me as I slammed the car door shut. I watched him drive away down the road and waved as he rounded the corner, he flicked the hazard lights to show me he had seen my wave.
In Art, Mrs. Ashburn started the class on tidying the room from the night before. The caretakers had obviously not been asked to sort the room out so there were still glasses to take back to the kitchens and the tables still needed to be folded up and put away.
Claire Peters had a glass in each hand and was looking at a third in confusion; I heard her asking out loud how she was going to be able to manage more than two. I shook my head in disbelief, grabbed an old cardboard box and started loading it with empty glasses.
“Beth, can I speak to you outside, please?” Mrs. Ashburn didn’t look happy, her lips were pursed together and her tiny mouse-like face looked drawn.
“Err, yes Miss,” I stammered. It suddenly dawned on me what she wanted, and why she looked so cross. The last time she had seen me I had ran out of the room, just as Mr. Sharpe had asked me to speak. I rubbed my hand across my face as I followed her onto the corridor. Last week when I had had my fit whilst sorting the display boards she had looked at me with a kind sympathy, like she was aware of the pressure I was under. However the puckered expression of disapproval on her face now showed that her understanding was running thin.
“Beth, I’ve had a very awkward conversation with Mr. Sharpe this morning,” she began after she had shut the classroom door. “He was both shocked and disappointed.” She raised an eyebrow and managed to somehow suck her lips in to an even smaller pucker.
“Miss, I’m sorry. I…I…” I trailed off; I didn’t know what to say. After my weeks of lying and bending the truth I was struggling to come up with a plausible excuse for my erratic departure the night before. I looked down at my feet, feeling the blood rush to my cheeks and said nothing.
Mrs. Ashburn sighed and the stiff stance she had been stood in softened as I felt her hand on my shoulder. I glanced up at her and her face had relaxed into a concerned smile.
“I told him that you had put yourself under enormous pressure, what with the designing of the sculpture and all the extra work you had put in on it outside of normal lessons. He finally agreed with me that asking you to speak in front of everyone might have been too overwhelming, too much for you to take.
“He’d asked you to speak because he had seen the photograph Mr. Reynard had put on the school website and assumed you would have enjoyed the limelight of being the class spokesperson.” She raised her eyebrow again and her lips lifted ever so slightly at the edges into a wry smile. “I guess,” she said with an edge of humour in her voice, “that he doesn’t realise how shy you actually are, and how modest you are when it comes to talking about your achievements.”
My cheeks flamed even more and I looked at Mrs. Ashburn with grateful eyes. I nodded feverishly, thankful that she had given Mr. Sharpe, and me, a sound excuse for my rude behaviour.
“Thank you, Miss,” I muttered.
“I hope that that was the real reason, Beth. You’ve been off it for days now, and I really hope that there isn’t anything else going on?”
“No, there is nothing else going on. You are right, Miss. I’ve exhausted myself the last few weeks and I just couldn’t speak to all of those people last night.” I spoke fast, the words of the lie tumbled over each other like cascading rocks and I couldn’t quite look Mrs. Ashburn in the eye. I convinced myself that because it was her who had come up with the excuse, it wasn’t really the same as lying, I was simply just agreeing with her explanation of events.
“Well,” she said. She managed to draw it out as if it was the longest word in the world. It was as if she was trying to give me time to say something else. I looked back down at the floor and, realising that I was not about to add anything else to the flimsy excuse, she carried on speaking. “You need to realise that you should have reacted in a different way, Beth. You could have had a quick word with me, about how overwhelmed you were feeling, and I could have spoken for you. I would have explained that you felt unable to speak in front of such a large amount of people.”
“Thanks, Miss, and I really am sorry.”
Mrs. Ashburn opened the classroom door and gestured me back inside. I let out a mental sigh of relief and headed back into the room. The rest of the class had been busy in our absence. All of the dirty glasses were in boxes, someone must have seen me starting to fill mine and realised it was the quickest way to complete the job, and the trestle tables had both vanished.
Claire looked at me with narrow eyes and thin lips making me grimace. She already thought I had Mrs. Ashburn wrapped round my little finger and us having a quiet word outside would only add fuel her assumptions. As far as Claire was concerned I had used my powers of persuasion to get my work singled out for the school website, to ensure that I was the head artist in making the sculpture and had obviously just used some kind of magic to get out of tidying up the classroom. I rolled my eyes, how little Claire Peters knew me.
After lunch I had a timed essay to complete in Philosophy and then I was free. I waited at the entrance to the common room, anxiously looking up and down the corridor for my best friend. Jess would never understand how important she had been in waking me up from my zombie state. She had offered me support, been a much needed force of friendship when I was at my lowest ebb, and for that I was truly thankful.
It was her devotion and commitment to our friendship that I needed now.