Benji’s eyes were fogged over with a bitter sense of sadness. Of a forgotten past in the hands of a forgotten boy.
He twisted the photo between his fingers and a faint smile curled the corners of his lips. It had fallen out of Pierre Blake’ copy of ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’. He was the boy who’s past had enticed Benji from the very first moment he’d found his old book, layered in dust and memories.
The photo was tinged yellow, a fuzzy and granulated shot of a pretty girl, her wild hair pulled into pigtails, her lips coated in blood red lipstick. On the back, in the scruffy handwriting Benji had become accustomed to seeing were a handful of simple words.
Florence. Summer, 1990.
It wasn’t the first time Benji had seen her name. It appeared throughout the book, scrawled in the corner of pages and written within lopsided love hearts. Occasionally, he’d come across the odd quote which had been underlined, with the letters ′Fl.′ written just beneath. Pierre Blake was deeply in love with this girl during October of 1991.
He wasn’t sure how long his fantasy lasted. Maybe a few years, months, days, hours after the book was checked out. But her name will forever be tattooed within the fragile pages of a literary classic. She was trapped in time, caged in a story. She was still young and radiant in Benji’s eyes. She was still that girl smiling up at him from the photo Pierre had kept tucked between the pages. The one place she could remain hidden. The one place no Oakleaf boy would ever find her; in a book.
“You look like you’ve just gained a deeply disturbing philosophical understanding about the universe.”
Benji flinched and twisted around hastily. Diesel was stood at the door, his hands buried in his pockets, his eyes warm but hungry. He glanced at the other boy skeptically, wondering why he was sitting on the cold floor when the nearest chair was less than a metre away. “Oh. Hey.” Benji gave him a weak, halfhearted smile, though he knew it wasn’t convincing.
The library had officially closed hours ago, but Benji rarely left. It was the only place he felt truly safe, like it was his territory, not someone else’s. Diesel slid down the wall and pulled his legs up to his chest, sitting beside the Pup instead of questioning his lack of proper seating. “Who’s that?” He furrowed his brows, examining the photo over Benji’s shoulder.
“Florence.” Benji murmured.
“Okay...” Diesel laughed. “Who’s Florence? You’re not turning straight on me, are you?”
Benji didn’t laugh; the humour barely touched him. He was too wound up in his own head, in Pierre’s head, in Florence’s eyes, in Lucky’s words. “Pierre’s girlfriend.”
“You still obsessing over that boy? I can’t lie, you’re starting to make me a little jealous.” Diesel teased, ruffling his hair absentmindedly.
Again, Benji’s expression remained blank and unfazed as he tucked her photo back into the book where it belonged.
“Okay, seriously, what’s wrong?” Diesel sighed heavily.
Diesel rose his brows, “You still worried about him?”
“No.” Benji shook his head faintly. “I mean, yes. It’s just...he saw my cuts, Eli.”
“Oh.” Diesel breathed. “Shit.”
Benji gazed up at him through wide, baby blue eyes, shining like crystals, begging for comfort. “Shit.” He repeated quietly.
“What did he say?”
“He was weird about it.” Benji shrugged, before finally shuffling over to Diesel’s side, dropping his head onto his shoulder. His eyes fell shut with comfort as Diesel draped his arm around the smaller boy’s frame.
“He’ll be okay.” Diesel tried to reassure him. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
Diesel rolled his eyes, “Will you be alright?”
Benji shrugged and snuggled closer to his chest, “Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Benji.” Diesel warned.
“What? I’m fine.”
“Hey, I just want to make sure my boyfriend is—”
"Boyfriend?" Benji interjected, yanking his body away from Diesel’s, his eyes widening in shock.
Diesel chuckled, “Yeah. Boyfriend.” He rose his brows, “Is that not...?”
“That’s good.” Benji reassured him quickly, burrowing back into his side, hunting for warmth. “That’s...yeah, that’s perfect.” He mumbled.
Diesel grinned faintly to himself, his fingers tracing up and down Benji’s clothed forearm, “You’re not still doing it, are you?”
“You know what I’m talking about.”
“No. I’m not.” Benji replied simply. “Are you?”
Diesel didn’t answer. His focus drifted to the ceiling, his heart pounding fast, his throat drying up. Benji slowly pulled away, twisting around to face his boyfriend directly.
Diesel sighed deeply, “It’s not like I do it every day—”
“You said you were clean.”
“I know, and I thought I was...I mean, I was, for a while.”
“What happened?” Benji’s voice cracked, his glittering eyes filling with tears.
“Hey, don’t cry, c’mon, Pup, please—”
“Don’t worry about me.” Benji snapped, quickly wiping a stray tear from his cheek. “Stop worrying about me, worry about yourself for once, Elias. Tell me what happened.”
“Nothing happened. It doesn’t work like that.”
“Then how does it work?”
“Pup, please just—”
“Eli, I care about you, okay?” Benji told him softly, placing a gentle hand over Diesel’s knee. “I’m not interrogating you, I just need to know. Please.”
Diesel gulped, his eyes softening, “Don’t you know what it feels like? I’m not alone here, Benj.”
“I only did it twice. Once at Lucky’s, once at Oakleaf. I don’t know the pain of it like you do.”
“Well, it sucks.” He said plainly. “The more it hurts, the more I want to do it again. But if it doesn’t hurt enough, then I just go deeper. I-I don’t know what to do...I don’t know how to stop.”
Benji bit his lower lip in contemplation, his heart aching with every word tumbling past Diesel’s lips. “I’m so sorry.” He whispered.
Diesel smiled sadly, raising his arm to brush a lock of curls from Benji’s face and rearrange his glasses. Benji caught his arm, his eyes locked with Diesel’s as he slowly peeled back his sleeve. His teeth were digging into his bottom lip so viciously, he was scared he might draw blood.
There wasn’t an inch of skin clean from the aggression of a blade. Raised scars and cuts littered his arm, staining his smooth skin. Some were old and healed, some fresh and red. Benji paled and carefully pulled Diesel’s sleeve back down, concealing his mutilated arm.
“How can I help you?” Benji asked cautiously.
Diesel smiled and wove their fingers together, giving his boyfriend’s hand a light squeeze. “Like this.” He whispered. “Just like this.”