Come the morning, Jack left to get them both breakfast and as soon as he left, Casper went out to the balcony swaddled in blankets with a cigarette and his phone. For a long time, he stared at Cain’s number on the screen. His hand shook as he lifted the cigarette to his lips, and he’d finished it by the time he worked up the courage to press call.
The least he could do was not ghost the guy. And in reality, this was the kindest thing he could do too. He was a sickness, and the only thing that he’d never disappoint was someone just as broken as he was.
It rung twice before he answered. Shit. Why couldn’t away mean no access to his fucking phone? A loud crackle ground out the speaker and grimacing, Casper held it away from his ear.
“Casper?” Distinctly his smooth, English lilt, even if it came just as broken up as the rest of the sound. “Sorry, I’m in the middle of a bloody desert. Bit hard to talk. Are you alright?”
Casper squeezed his eyes closed and tipped his head back against the window. A deep ache burst into being in his chest. “I—I—” Just say it, Roach Boy. Don’t be a pussy. But it was so fucking hard to make the words come out of his mouth.
He could feel the way Cain had held him like he sat beside him on the cramped space of the balcony right now. Hear the whisper in his ear.
Remember me like this.
He’s so lovely, mum. He—he keeps making me laugh. He looks at me like I’m the most beautiful thing in the world.
“Cassie? Is everything alright?”
Fresh howling crackled through the speaker and the harsh sound startled him to words, a jumbled mess. “My—My boyfriend came ’round yesterday, and like … not my ex anymore. I just—” Casper took a shuddering breath, pressed his forehead against his knees— “just wanted to tell you I won’t be c—coming on that date anymore.”
A low, indistinct hiss. The ache sunk down, twisting up in his stomach. This wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair. Even as his hand reached out the end of the tunnel into that ethereal light, rubble came crashing down and blocked him off in darkness. But he’d promised Jack nothing emotional, and this … it was so far past emotional it terrified him.
Silence. Casper swallowed hard and carried on regardless. Someone had stepped out onto the balcony opposite, a bulky man with a thick beard and a wifebeater, and he leant over the railing with a cigarette puffing between his lips.
“Thank you. For that night. It was … it was probably the best night of my life. At least for a long … long time. No one’s ever treated me like you have so … so thank you. And I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright.” So quiet that Casper had to press the phone back to his ear and grit his teeth against the metallic crackle to hear him. “It’s stupid, I’m sorry. You barely know me, Cas, I can’t expect you to drop him for me.”
So gentle, but the keen it raised in his chest came sharp as a knife. “I’m sorry anyway.”
“Don’t be. Look, Cas, keep my number. Please. Not for another date, but if you ever need anything – a lift, money, food, just—just someone to talk to – if you need anything, please just ring me.”
“Please, Cas. I’d be happy to hear from you, and I promise I won’t push my luck. I’ll always be at the end of the phone, so just call.”
Casper wouldn’t, and even if he did, those promises would be hollow at the core, but it was nice to have a reason to keep that number saved in his phone. Next time he got high or drunk alone, he could stare at it for hours and wonder if he should call.
“Okay. I’m—I’m gonna go now. Jack’s going to be back soon…”
“Alright, love.” Love? Casper squeezed his eyes closed against the skip of his heart. “I’ve really never met anyone like you, Cas. You’re special. Remember that.”
Remember me like this.
How could Casper ever forget?
Casper killed the call. His phone tumbled from his slack fingers to the concrete, a sound like shattering as it hit the floor. The blankets over his head shut out the thin morning light, and in that cocoon, Casper shook.
All the motions of crying, but the tears just wouldn’t come.