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Mystery Romance Gay

Cigarettes had always made me choke and splutter.

Mum had been adamant about keeping me away from smokers. When we walked through the dust-filled streets of the city, where people left their office buildings during their lunch break to smoke in alleyways.

She would always throw a dirty look at them, wrapping an arm around my shoulder, telling them with her eyes, “I have a child”, as if their eyes were on her too. As though they cared as much as she did. She had never quite succeeded in passing on her hatred of smokers to me.

I mention this only because I have a cigarette between my fingers, acting like I am some professional in the smoking department because the tip I had pressed the lighter against a few seconds ago totally won’t burn me too. As they do anybody.

Like my skin is made of glass. More delicate than wood, able to break with a single touch, a bump or a scrape. Wood is different. Wood is tough. But if you hold a flame to a piece of glass and a block of wood at the same time, which one will catch aflame first?

There is music blasting in my ears, the cords tangle halfway down my chest because they are a menace to undo – like an intricate maze, where if you manage to find your way through, your prize is to listen to the music that nobody else can hear.

Except, I think that people can hear my music, judging by the looks the woman beside me is giving. Stupid teenagers with their brain-rotting music. Only, I’m not a teenager anymore, I can’t pin that label on myself like those name tags they gave us in primary school, use it as an excuse for everything I do. I am an adult now.

And apparently adults can see ghosts.

I drop my cigarette. It dives head-first onto the pavement, sizzling as it hits the cement – concussed. My attention is focused elsewhere to give much thought to my wounded cigarette. Ants would probably carry it away and take it to a puddle left behind by the morning rain to rest in peace.

I yank out my headphones and immediately become bombarded with the noise of the daily traffic. It’s far better for the calming indie rock music to block out the cacophony of day to day life. Far better for my head to float up in the clouds somewhere, than to feel the heavy pull of gravity.

I stand up, pushing through the smoke, and stumble a little as though I really did fall from the sky. My heart pulsates sickeningly, and I try to swallow it back down.

It can’t be.

My nerves hum beneath my skin. I feel the way my computer felt when I had spent an entire day and night streaming this show on an illegal website. I press my hands to my cheeks, as though I am trying to replicate the man from that painting ‘The Scream’.

My cheeks are cold to the touch. No fever that could have induced delirious hallucinations. I am breaking out into fits of cold sweat, and I think I might just faint. Fall head-first onto the pavement and crack my skull open like my cigarette. Karma really is a bitch.

Maybe it is time to entertain the slight possibility that I have finally lost it. That my sanity has snapped and I am beginning to see dead people like my old grandma who spends all her time up in the attic talking to a little girl named Laura. Either that, or we’re both psychic – I certainly do recall having some strange dreams lately.

I try to walk, but I stumble again. A man catches me, looking concerned. It’s probably just concern for himself though because he had caught me on reflex and now realises that I’m some crazy person he doesn’t want to touch.

He smells like coffee.

“Hey, are you okay?” he says. He sounds nice enough.

I back away, looking across the street where I had seen this supposed ghost. “I’m fine,” I reply when I realise the man is still standing there, waiting for me to say something.

He doesn’t move, I can see it written all over the lines on his face. Are you high? What are you on? Should I be calling the police? Teenagers these days.

Nuh uh, not a teenager anymore.

“You don’t look too good,” he says, trying to meet my eyes.

“I’m fine,” I say.

I see him leaning against the wall of that pizza shop. One foot up against the brick and the other stretched out in front of him. He’s a wearing a white t-shirt and pale ripped jeans, tattered black converses to match the colour of his hair.

He’s reading a book like he always was, oblivious to the bustling of the people around him. He looks grown though – taller, fitter. Can ghosts age?

I begin to run. Catching onto the wind, pushing past all the people to get to him. A few people swear, throwing dirty looks at me when my elbow catches them in the ribs, like my mum had looked at those smokers.

My lungs burn, and I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t breathed, or I’m breathing too much. Then I stop, taking in a great gulp of air. I can smell him. The faint scent of green apple and peppermint.

He looks up from his book and our eyes meet. Are they a ghost’s eyes? They’re still as blue and misty as the sky on a cloudy day. His lips part slightly, and turn up into a smile. My heart can’t take the sight of it. His perfect face is like a thorn driving into my ventricles.

I turn away. I am going to forget that I ever saw him. 

“Addie!”

I hold myself up. But I’m glass. I crumble and I break with a single touch, bump or scrape. I may not be flammable, but I am delicate. And at the end of the day, there is a higher chance of someone bumping me, than trying to light me aflame.

I feel like there’s fire creeping in. I smell the smoke of my long-gone cigarette. He’s the ghost within the flames, that reaches out to strangle me when I think he is long gone.

My heart bleeds. And I’m glass, so I’m see-through. He can see the way my lungs shudder, and how my blood colours that glass a gruesome red.

I’m red all over.

And the worst thing is, he’s standing there with that gorgeous smile, screaming my name like all he sees inside me are rose petals. He doesn’t see the thrones tearing my organs to shreds.

I loved him, and I gave him my heart, acting like it was such an easy thing to give. Because he was such an easy person to love. I fell in love with his eyes, then his words, and the way he kissed me like I was the only spot of colour in a grey, grey world.

Then I lost him. And I lost my heart too.

“You died,” I say. I had never said those words before. I refused to acknowledge he was dead, until he was standing right in front of me.

His smile disappears, torn away. “Who… who told you that?” his voice shakes a little, like he’s afraid of how I would respond.

“I saw you,” I say. “You mum called me saying there was an accident. I saw them wheel you into an ambulance with a sheet over your head.”

I don’t talk about how I had run there in the middle of the night, down the seemingly empty streets until I was blinded by neon lights. How for a moment, I thought it had all been a dream. That he couldn’t be dead.

That was the first time I lost someone. I hadn’t even lost a grandparent, and the first person I lost was my boyfriend.

He tries to grab my hand, but I jerk away, afraid that his grasp would vanish into the air. Even if he is a ghost. I want him to haunt me forever.

“My mum lied,” he says. “The person they wheeled into the ambulance was the taxi driver. His head hit against the steering wheel and he died instantly.”

“You didn’t see me there?” I say, so quietly. “You didn’t think to maybe come and tell me that you’re alive at least.” I swallow thickly, I can’t breathe as though there’s fluid in my lungs. Like that one winter when I contracted pneumonia, spending weeks coughing and heaving over a rubbish bin.

This is worse.

“She didn’t want us to be together,” he says. “She wanted me to love a girl and I couldn’t. So she took matters into her own hands.”

Suddenly, I start laughing. So loud that the people on the streets turn to throw me judgemental looks. But I don’t care. I laugh until my stomach is aching and my lungs are begging for air. I drink in the wind, and I keep laughing.

Two years. Two whole years of neverending grief and heartache that all apparently mean nothing now. The flames can burn me. My bones can shatter. But I am not made of glass. I am made of skin, muscle tissue and bones – my year ten biology teacher would say there is so much more to that.

And then I stop laughing because there is nothing more to laugh about. So, I turn and smash my fist against the brick wall. Because glass would have shattered. But my human skin and human bones only became scraped and busted. And oh, the pain is immense, and I immediately sink to the ground with the weight of it.

Cradling my broken fist, tears streaming down my cheeks. I hurt all over. My tangled earphones hang limply, still playing the indie rock music, and I wish that I had never taken them away from my ears. There are words piling at my throat and I choke on them.

Then, he leans down and brings me into his arms, gently rocking me. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry.” What is the word sorry anyway? For two years of my life, I was that weirdo kid who couldn’t be talked shit about because he had lost his boyfriend. Because his grief had done some messed up things to his brain and now he’s permanently damaged.

I let him lift me back onto my feet, and guide me all the way to his apartment. Because he was an adult and he owned an apartment of his own. Maybe that’s why I never fully classified myself as an adult, because I still lived with my parents who didn’t trust me to live on my own.

I fall onto his bed, and he doesn’t seem to mind that I’m smearing blood all over his sheets. That I’m leaving my DNA there as evidence of something unholy. He brushes his fingers against my wrist, but I recoil.

“Let me look at that,” he says.

“What are you?” I say. “Training to be a doctor?”

“Psychology,” he replies. Great, so he has made a life for himself and I dropped out of school on the first day. That’s totally fine.

“So you can read into my behaviours and how that reflects my mental state, huh,” I say. I had always hated psychologists. They were always so eager to help.

He doesn’t reply to me, just holds onto my busted hand like it doesn’t send butterflies flying everywhere. “This is going to sting.” He pours antiseptic onto a cotton ball – how he has that within arm’s reach is a mystery to me. He presses it against my bloody skin, the white cotton blooms with red. I let out a choked cry, and try to hold back the tears, but they come down anyway.

I want him to say something to me. Ask me why I punched that wall for god’s sake because even I don’t know why. I sure as hell regret it now with all the pain that I’m in. He wraps my knuckles in soft bandages. He pulls out a bottle of pills and then leaves, coming back with a glass of water.

He gives me two. I pop them into my mouth and down it without a second thought. That could have been poison, but I would have downed it just the same.

“Where did you get all this stuff if you’re just studying psychology?” I ask, a little drowsily.

“My roommate is doing medicine,” he says. “He loves to practise on me because I’m always punching things.” I look down at his hand that is still clutching onto mine. At the scarred skin.

“Why?” I ask.

“Same reason you punched that wall?” he says, breathing deeply, maybe sighing. “Because I lost you too, Addie. I couldn’t stop thinking about you. You were the best thing I ever had. But I couldn’t have you. I was watching you from across that street, and I thought you would never look up.”

“No one calls me Addie anymore,” I say. The truth is nobody calls me by name anymore. It’s always ‘hey, you’, or sweetie – courtesy of my smoke-detesting mother. I can’t even bring myself to say his name.

“Then I take pleasure in having a part of you that nobody else does,” he says. He places his hand on my cheek, leaning in.

I let him, and our lips press together for a blissful few seconds, but I can’t take it. Despite his lips being soft and warm, I keep imagining it going cold, and then him falling away – just a corpse.

“I can’t,” I say, running my hand along my dry but tearstained cheeks.

“That’s okay,” he replies. “I went too far.” He fidgets and then backs away, and I see the real hurt in his eyes. It hurts me too.

“Hold me?” I say.

And he comes back to give me all of him. I rest my head on his shoulder, feeling his pulse beat against my forehead.

“Len,” I finally say as I exhale, twisting his shirt between my fingers.

“Addie,” he replies.

Then I say his name again. And he responds with my name again. We go back and forth until the moonlight replaces the sun.

And we still hold onto each other.

With no intention of ever letting go.        

July 31, 2020 12:06

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12 comments

21:33 Sep 11, 2020

I love how you 'show' what happen in every paragraph, and your story is great. I really want to know if they're together again and if they are how would Len's mother feel about it.

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Yolanda Wu
22:40 Sep 11, 2020

Thank you for the kind words, Danielle! At the moment, I think I will just leave the story where it is, but maybe in the future, if a prompt fits or something, I will write a continuation. Thanks for reading!

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22:44 Sep 11, 2020

Sure!

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Tanaya Barber
20:21 Oct 27, 2021

keep this up! your doing great!

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Lauren :)
01:37 Sep 03, 2020

Love the title!

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Yolanda Wu
02:45 Sep 03, 2020

Thank you, Lauren!

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Barbara Burgess
15:00 Aug 06, 2020

I loved your story. There is something poetic about it. I am sure you also write poetry or should. Well done.

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Yolanda Wu
22:09 Aug 06, 2020

I'm so glad you liked it. I'm a huge fan of poetry, but don't write much of it myself. I will certainly take up your suggestion.

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Amber Shepherd
07:14 Aug 06, 2020

I really enjoyed this. There was such great imagery used - my favourite was the comparisons between him and glass and wood. Your description of putting the antiseptic on the wounded knuckle was so good that it actually made me wince and screw up my own hand haha. Really good work :)

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Yolanda Wu
08:04 Aug 06, 2020

Ahhh, thank you so much for your kind words, they made my day

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Masha Kurbatova
05:15 Aug 06, 2020

beautiful descriptions! heartbreaking story

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Yolanda Wu
05:22 Aug 06, 2020

awww thank you so muchh!

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