I was out late - let there be no doubt about that! One month of my summer break had already passed by and I'd gotten nothing done but finished five games on my Xbox. Mom kept nagging me about getting a job. She told me to either start being a grown up - or to start looking for a new family!
"Your brother is doing so well," she said over and over again. She acted as if he was a real star. As he first came home and said that he'd started working at KFC, she hadn't been one bit pleased, but now she only praised his job. He'd given me a hard time showing off his weekly pay before heading downtown to spend it on weed. I think Mom had a feeling that something was going on, but she only had the energy to be angry at one of us at the time. As I was the only unemployed in the family, her frustrations were naturally aimed at me and if I expected for her to pay my first year in college, I'd better get my ass out of bed and head out into the real world. (Those were her words, not mine).
But as said; I was out late. I handed in my CV to pretty much every shop in town, but none of them had jobs available and already a stack of unsolicited applications in the back. And I really had no qualifications that made me stand out from the rest; I was 18 years old, I'd only just finished high school and the only work I'd ever had was as a paperboy - and that was six years ago.
Things weren't looking up, but Mom wasn't giving up just yet; she handed me a folder she'd found at the local library. It had a lot of pictures in it of happy teens and a fat, yellow headline that read:
Become a volunteer worker today!
And that was pretty much the story about how I ended up biking to the outskirts of town early Friday morning doing home care for a guy named Arthur Kirkland.
Homecare is for old people and as expected I rolled into the driveway of a terrace house with hollyhocks and a fat cat sleeping on the doorstep. It purred happily as it saw me and I leaned down to run my fingers across its big, furry belly.
"Are you all alone?" I asked it with a grin and parked my bike up against the wall before kneeling next to it. It was white with orange spots on its face and down its back, and its bushy tail was wagging lightly as I tried to slip my hands around it to lift it up. "Wow, you're heavy!" I laughed. The cat started hissing and wriggling between my hands. That's when I heard the creak from a window being opened on my right side.
"It doesn't like being lifted."
I looked towards the voice and found a young man looking out at me. He was leaning against the windowsill and from where I was sitting I could only see his damp, messy hair and green eyes. His bushy brows had been pushed well down onto them, making them narrow and looking annoyed. I let go of the cat and stumbled back up standing with a flustered smile.
"Sorry, I didn't know."
"Are you here for the books?" he asked.
I blinked and shook my head confused. "Uh, books?"
"I'll be right out." He disappeared back inside and I unhooked my bag from the bike. He opened the front door in the same and waved me in. "They're in the living room," he said.
"I'm not here for any books," I explained but still stepped into the hallway.
He looked me up and down: "You're not from the bookstore?" I shook my head and he started looking suspicious. He'd been about to close the door, but now he opened it wide again. "Are you selling anything?"
"No, man," I stuttered awkward. "I'm here to see an Arthur Kirkland. I'm here to do some cleaning and stuff."
"You?" He looked me up and down once again. I was wearing simple jeans and a white shirt, but still he looked repelled. "What is your name?" he asked.
"Alfred Jones. And you?"
He crinkled his nose at my question and shut the door. "Well, obviously I am Arthur Kirkland," he said.
I gawked: "You?"
Arthur Kirkland wasn't the old man I'd expected seeing. This young man was in his twenties and he looked very much alive despite his lacking fashion (- really, it was summer, and he'd still put on a green cardigan and long pants). He shook his head at me and gestured for me to follow him as he walked towards the kitchen, so I did. I looked around as we walked.
Everything inside really did look like an old man's home; the furniture was crooked, he had old paintings on the walls instead of posters and I couldn't see a single thing that could lead anyone to believe that a guy like Arthur would be living here. We went through his living room to get to the kitchen and I noticed he had a record player in the corner of the room. It looked battered, but it wasn't dusty; I got the feeling that it was often used.
"Are they running some volunteer-project again?" Arthur asked me as we entered the kitchen. I stopped in the doorway and peeked in. He had a newspaper lying open on the table, and next to it a cup of steaming hot tea and a piece of toast. He sat down on a chair and started smearing jam over the bread.
"Yeah, well, I don't know.." I said. He raised his brows at me and I scratched the back of my neck shyly. "I mean, I just called this centre that recruits volunteers for different things. They said they needed someone here to take care of Arthur - well, you - and I needed a job." I put my bag down and waited for Arthur to say something, but he just shook his head tired. Then he finally looked up and over at me.
"Next time you take off your shoes in the hallway," he said and I looked down at my converses. I hadn't even thought about them, but I quickly stepped out of them. "Have a seat. Do you want anything to drink?"
"Uh, do you have coffee?" I asked and put my shoes aside next to my bag.
"I don't drink coffee. How about tea?"
"Nah, it's alright." I sat down on the chair across of his and smiled a bit at him. He took a bite of his toast and sighed while chewing at it.
"It's hard to get help these days," he said and gently brushed the crumbs off of his hand down onto his plate. Not a single one off them dropped to the floor. I eyed as he pushed them aside to one specific part of the plate. Then I looked back up at him. He was staring out into the air, but not at anything specific. I couldn't tell if he was thinking or was done talking, so I cleared my throat.
"Not to be rude," I said, "but, eh.. I thought you would be old."
Arthur laughed: "I'm lucky if I get that far!" I chuckled friendly, but I didn't get it. He noticed my wrinkled brows and shook his head. "I'm ill. I need help most of the time. If not for cleaning, then to check up on me. Tomorrow I could be lying dead in the bedroom."
"You look pretty healthy to me," I said. I was assured he had to be joking, but he just shrugged a bit and leaned in to sip his tea. The light smell of strawberries was all over the kitchen. I took in a deep breath and felt my nostrils widen in delight. I loved berries.
"It's good one day, bad the next," he said and put his cup down. "The doctor tells me not to overstretch myself, it'll only worsen my health."
"What's wrong with you?" I asked bluntly and immediately felt stupid. Luckily Arthur just smiled at me. I could tell he'd been asked that question a thousand times before and so it hurt all the more as he could only shake his head:
"What do you mean?"
"Sometimes I can't breathe. Sometimes I can't walk; I have no power in me to do anything. I get headaches, my muscles hurt and from time to time," he waved his hand in front of his face, "I go blind for minutes. There's just nothing." His hand dropped to the table and he looked at me with this challenging glimpse to his eyes; it was as if he dared me to feel sorry for him.
I felt sick. I really had no clue what to say and my throat was blocked for some reason, so I couldn't say anything at all anyway. Arthur started pushing his crumbs around the plate again and then he suddenly stood up. "Let me show you what to do," he said and I nodded.
Arthur's house was small, but because he had a lot of ornaments, it was impossible to clean anything quickly. But I have to say that his place was exciting; alone the bookcase in the living room had thick books I've never seen anywhere else and he had an impressive collection of records. I think he had a crush on Elvis, because his face kept popping up as I dusted the covers off one by one. Still it was his signed Doctor Who photo in the bedroom that did it for me. For minutes I stared at him standing next to David Tennant. My jealousy was obvious, but still Arthur didn't seem the least flattered or interested in having me letting him know just how lucky he was.
Really, the worst thing about working for Arthur was Arthur himself. After he'd showed me around and let me know just what I would be doing, he went to his backyard to water the flowers. Shortly after he'd gone out there, I saw him pushing a lawnmower as strongly as any other healthy guy. I couldn't help but to question if my work was really all a lie and if the thing with him being ill was just a joke, because he didn't seem unable to catch his breath unless yelling at me. And he did that already this first day; if I took a short break or stood looking for too long at something, he would suddenly be by my side asking if I was planning on sleeping over considering the time I was taking. No matter how I apologised, it was not good enough and my work was even worse. He had specific rules with everything; odd obsessions that didn't make the least sense. He wanted for me to clean the rooms in a certain order to 'keep everything balanced' as he called it. Furthermore I had to be careful to place the pillows back on the sofa in the right place, else it would look too chaotic for him; oh, and I wasn't allowed to hum or talk out loud with myself, because it would be disturbing to him. I didn't get how he was even be able to hear me over his lawnmower anyway, but I kept quiet, because the one time I did hum, he yelled in at me to keep it down.
I tried to tell myself that he was just an oddball. But by the end of the day I was assured that he was a mean, old man captured in the body of a younger-looking guy. The fact that I didn't get paid for my hard work just made it even worse. As I was putting on my shoes in the hallway, he watched me closely.
"When will you be back?" he asked.
'Never,' I thought, but I gave him a tired smile: "On Tuesday around noon."
"Be sure to be here on time," he said and held the door for me as I opened it. I walked out and hung my bag on the handlebar of my bike.
"I will. It was nice working for you," I lied and pulled my bike free of the wall, but by then he'd already closed the door. I looked at it puzzled. His fat cat came running from around the house and stopped in the driveway as it looked up at me. I looked down at it and raised my brows. "How do you cope with that?" I asked it. It just sat down and started to clean its fur. I turned my bike around. "Well, you take care of yourself, alright?" It meowed and I grinned at it before I started going home after hours of work. It was relieve that filled me up as I could roll downhill and be met by the cold wind playing with my hair, and I closed my eyes for a moment and just took in a few deep breaths.
"I am not going back," I mumbled, "I am not going back."
"Of course you're going back!"
Mom closed the oven and looked at me. I was sitting at the table in the kitchen while slowly flickering through the pages of this morning's newspaper. It was the same as the one Arthur had been reading. I shuddered; just thinking about him made me feel bad.
"It's horrible. He's so mean to me!" I said.
"Well, you know granddad - the older men gets, the meaner."
"But he's not even old!" I closed the paper and shoved it across the table. Mom turned to cut up the tomatoes. I eyed the potatoes roasting in the oven. "He's in his twenties. Hell, he could be twenty for all I know!"
"Have you got another job at hand?" she asked me and I felt my heart sink.
"No.." I mumbled.
"Then you're staying." She turned and pointed at me with the knife - I could tell she wasn't in the mood for any discussion!
Still I smiled wryly and uttered a: "Mom? Please?"
She shook her head. "It's only two times a week. If something comes up, you can change job. Until then you're cleaning his home; whether you like it or not!"
I grimaced: "I think not."
"What did you say?"
"…nothing. I'll just go get Matthew." I got up from the chair and quickly leapt upstairs. As soon as she couldn't see me, I bumped my forehead to the wall and huffed. If it wasn't because she had money - and thereby my future! - I would've packed my things and left long ago.
I took the last few steps slowly while holding onto the banister. I'd really started to hate home. It wasn't because anyone was treating me badly, rather Mom was one of the sweetest ladies I knew of. Even Matthew could be an alright brother when not high. But it was just as if I'd gotten tired of it all. Home was too homely and I wanted to see something different. Cleaning an ill man's house just wasn't the kind of teenage-adventure I'd hoped for.
I knocked on Matthew's door and heard him rummaging around in there. As he opened it, I spotted the open window behind him. He looked surprised. "Oh, Al."
"Thought it was Mom, hah?" I grinned and he let me in.
"Yeah, yeah. What's up?"
"Dinner is almost ready."
"Oh." He closed the door and I sat down on his bed. His room reeked of smoke, but only the kind you get from cigarettes. I looked at his filled ashtray by the bed.
"Mom knows you smoke cigarettes, man. No need to hide."
"Yeah, true, yeah." He scratched his head and leaned up against his desk. He looked at me. "So, had a fun first working day?" He grinned as soon as I shook my head.
"No - and I'm not even getting paid!"
"You knew that, didn't you? Volunteer work. It's in the name."
I leaned backwards until gravity got me and I flopped down to lie on my back. I eyed the ceiling. "I know," I said, "but when I called them, I expected something easier. Like you see them do on television, right?"
"Eh, picking up trash from the street?"
"Isn't that work for prisoners?" We shrugged at the same time at his question and he came over to sit down next to me. He didn't say more and we both just listened to the noises from the kitchen.
Matthew had the same blonde hair as me, but his was longer and a bit wavy. He looked somewhat like a hippie and I knew that he'd been thinking about getting some sort of tattoo of a piece-sign. He'd said he wanted it in the colours of the rainbow, but then he found out that rainbows are gay. Then he couldn't decide anymore. I'd told him not to give a fuck, but he did.
"What was his name?" Matthew suddenly asked.
"That guy you're helping out."
"Oh, Arthur Kirkland."
Matthew nodded: "He doesn't sound American." He was reaching out for another cigarette as Mom called from downstairs. I sat up and yawned.
"Well, no matter what he is, he's my new boss," I said and Matthew laughed.
"Yeah, I think I'll just stay at KFC," he said.
I would've stayed at KFC as well if I'd gotten work there. Instead I had to head back to Arthur's place the following Tuesday. Again I found his cat on the doorstep rolling around, but as soon as it saw me it stopped being playful and sat straight up. It was as if it had been expecting me. I put my bike at the same spot as last time and reached down as I stroked its head.
"I won't lift you this time," I said to it and it purred. Then I knocked on the door. Arthur opened it shortly afterwards and looked out at me. "Hey," I smiled.
"Do you only own one pair of jeans?" he asked.
I looked down myself. I had the same jeans on as last time. "I've washed them since then," I said logically and shrugged. Arthur stepped aside and let me in. As I walked in, I noticed his cardigan looked the same. But this one was blue. "Do you only own one kind of cardigans?"
"Don't be a smartass," he said, but he was smiling. He closed the door and pointed to my shoes as I was about to step on in, so I leaned down and took them off first. "You're even late."
"I am? What's the time?"
"A quarter past."
"Oh, well, I did say around noon, didn't I?"
"I don't know," Arthur answered and I rolled my eyes. What was the problem, anyway? "You forgot to change the sheet last time you were here."
"On the bed? Sorry, I forgot," I admitted and put my shoes next to his. He looked at them for a few seconds and I think I saw a smile in his eyes, but it was gone as soon as he looked back at me.
"Don't forget. You're not paid to forget."
"I am not paid at all," I laughed and his cheeks reddened a bit.
"Well, you know what to do. I'll be in the garden." I nodded and watched as he disappeared into the living room and out the door in there leading to the yard. Then I sighed and grabbed at the hoover as I started my chores.
I started in the hallway this time to get the dirt from outside off of the carpet. I never got why anyone put carpets at a place where they were sure to get messy, but I didn't say anything.
I hadn't noticed them last time I was there, but now my gaze fell on the many pictures he'd put up on the wall. They were photographs of himself and people I didn't know. I could tell they were all from a few years back. In one of them he was standing next to a beautiful woman with curly, brown hair and a lovely smile. She looked to be a few years older than him and I pondered if she was some sort of girlfriend. But he clearly lived alone. If she was an ex, why would he have her picture up? For me that just seemed painful.
The photograph that caught my attention, though, was the one he'd placed right in the middle. It was the biggest of them all and showed a lovely little house with a pretty garden. I could see hills in the background. It looked like the kind of idyllic, perfect home you would see in commercials. It made me smile a bit.
Then Arthur's sharp voice brought me back to reality: "Are you on vacation?" I glanced towards him. He was standing in the doorway with a few flowers in his hands. He seemed to have just plucked them.
"Summer break," I said.
"Get to work," he said and I grabbed around the hoover again as I continued cleaning. Still my gaze kept drifting back to the lovely house. I had a strong feeling that it meant a lot to him.
I know I could've just asked him about the photos, but I wasn't sure I would get an answer and besides I wasn't really interested in getting the story of his life. Arthur also seemed too busy to chat much with me; he hurried past me doing small things around the house constantly and not once did I see him sit down and just relax. Mostly he worked on keeping his garden pretty and I must say that he was doing a great job; as I stepped out into the yard to get his help on some matter, I was taken aback by the lovely smell from the many flowers. It was like a woman's perfume. The sight was just as pleasing to the eye; red, pink and purple flowers were blooming in the middle of the garden in a circle, and alongside the hedges he had bushes and two big trees, one in each corner of the yard. He'd also put up a little table with two chairs by it. It looked like the kind of place you would hold a tea party and it suddenly hit me why he didn't sound American;
he was of course English. He'd just lived in America for enough years for his accent to be very toned down. The few times he'd slipped I'd just shrugged it off. I smiled at the sudden realisation and shook my head at myself.
"What are you so happy about?" he asked me as he came up from behind. I turned around and nodded to him.
"It's a pretty garden," I said and he seemed surprised by my compliment. He looked out across it and there was pride in his voice as he said:
"Yes, isn't it?"
"It must be hard work.."
Arthur shrugged and put down the vase he'd been holding. "I only do it when I feel well here in the summer."
"You seem well most of the time," I grinned and he glared at me annoyed.
"What are you implying? It's not something I fake."
"Of course not," I said and rolled my eyes. He scowled at me and continued out into the garden, and I followed him with quick steps: "Uh, your Doctor Who collection-"
"You can't borrow it," he said.
"I don't want to," I sighed, though I couldn't stop myself from thinking how cool that would actually be, "I just need to know if I can move it."
Arthur turned around and looked at me. Then he reached out and grabbed me by the arm. I couldn't help my cheeks from going a bit red as he felt up my muscles.
"Uh…" I mumbled.
"Yes," he said, "I can feel you're strong. I think you can move it. Whether you may move it, though…" He smirked at me. What a canny bastard.
"Okay, may I move it?" I asked.
"Sure, just put it back in exactly the same way you found it. Movies right, posters left, make sure the autographs are kept safe."
"Wow, autographs?" I repeated and he smiled at me.
"They're in my album. If you're careful, you can look through them."
I sleazily saluted at him: "Thank you, sir."
He wrinkled his brows at me. "Don't be cocky."
My arm fell and I shrugged: "Okay, sorry."
"Get to work," he huffed and kneeled to take a closer look at some weeds. I sighed and walked back inside.
Again; I just couldn't win with Arthur. His mood was odd; he could be smiling and close to laughing one moment, and the next he would look at me as some sort of alien. It was as if he was afraid to enjoy my company, so instead he made it miserable for me. Though I was careful to move and clean behind his collection, he thought I didn't put it back in; I'd not layered his posters right on the shelf. I found it odd that he would even point that out to me. If he was in such a good spirit here during summer, why didn't he just do everything himself and stop taking up other people's time?
If I'd been tired after my first day of work, I was really tired by the end of this second day. I got up on my bike while he was still standing in the doorway.
"You'll be here Friday morning, right?" he asked.
"That's what I've been asked to," I answered.
"You don't sound happy about it?" he said and raised his brows questioningly.
I wanted to keep quiet and tightened my grip around the handlebars, but I couldn't help myself: "Well, it's not like you make it easy on me." He gave me a long look and I stared right back at him. For a moment I actually thought he was going to apologise and tell me that I was right. But no.
"Don't whine," he said instead and then smacked the door on me. I felt my cheeks redden for the second time that day, but this time it was from anger.
"Well, then stop fucking whining yourself!" I yelled and turned my bike around. I saw the head of his neighbour pop down in the same on the other side of the hedge and felt bad; I hadn't meant for others to hear me. I slowly rolled out of the driveway and looked in over the hedge. The lady was kneeling by the foot of it, but she looked up as my shadow fell in over her. She looked worried. "Sorry for yelling," I said and smiled at her shyly, "I just got frustrated."
She slowly stood up and corrected her dress. She was an elderly woman like most of the people I'd seen in this neighbourhood. Thinking about it I hadn't driven past a single person who hadn't passed their fifties yet. But for Arthur, of course. "We all get frustrated," she said, "but don't be too harsh on him."
I huffed: "If you had any idea how harsh he is on me-! Well, I don't think you would like it."
She smiled at me kindly: "I do have an idea. We all do. But really; it's Arthur." She shook her head and I knew the conversation was over, but I still didn't get a word. Should someone be excused for being an ass just because they had a prudish name?
I took the long way home to calm myself down. I knew it wouldn't do me any good if Mom saw me angry; she would just say it was my own fault for being too sensitive. I didn't think of myself as sensitive, but the longer I spend on my bike, the worse I felt about the way I'd dealt with Arthur. Maybe he wasn't just ill in body - maybe it was all rather at mind? That could be why he acted to oddly when it came to his mood. If it was so, then I looked like an idiot now for yelling at someone mentally disabled.
As I finally arrived at home, I headed straight for bed in shame. I'd almost made it to my room as Matthew poked his head out of his own and waved at me.
"Dude, what did you say his name was?"
I looked at him tired: "Arthur Kirkland?"
He waved me closer. I looked at my door and then followed him into his room with a sigh. "I have something wild to show you," he said.
"I really just want to sleep," I protested but still leaned in over his chair as he sat down by his laptop. He pointed to the screen.
"Look what I found!"
Matthew had logged onto some online achieve with newspaper articles. The headline of the article he'd found read:
Family dies in a car accident.
My eyes quickly gazed down the article. Apparently a family of three was on their way home as the driver lost control of the car and drove off the road. The car crashed with a tree and all three lost their lives. I crinkled my nose.
"Why am I reading this?" I asked. Then I noticed the listed names of the three. One of them was Arthur Kirkland. "Hell," I mumbled.
Matthew bounced in his seat excited. "Right?"
"When is this from?" He scrolled up the page and I read the year in the corner: "Four years ago?"
"Yeah, in two months it'll be. It's wild, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but it's not him. He's alive."
"I wonder how many are named Arthur Kirkland.." Matthew pondered out loud.
I shrugged and straightened up. "Well, I am heading to bed."
"Sure - but hey, cool, right?"
I did find the name an odd coincidence, but that was all it was; a coincidence. I'd forgotten about it as I met Arthur again the following Friday. But that day was one I wouldn't soon forget about.
I arrived on time (according to Arthur it was five minutes late, though) and started my chores as usually. But already in the morning I could feel that something was a little off. It was a nice weather outside, but still Arthur didn't go out into his garden. He sat in the living room and watched me as I went around cleaning the house. I knew he was keeping an eye on me, but it annoyed me that apparently that was all he planned on doing that day. That and making me do all sorts of things in between my chores.
"Open the door," he would say one moment and the next: "Close it, it's too cold." I should feed his cat and then maybe not, because it was getting big. But then again - it needed food. And then I should grab a sandwich if I wanted to, but not one too big, because it looked like my mom fed me well from home. And so it continued the first hour.
"Why are you even here?" Arthur asked after a while and I had to admit that I was asking myself the very same question; just what was I doing with my break?
"Well, Mom thought this would be good for me," I said. By then I was trying to get cat-hair off of a pillow. He was sitting right next to me, watching.
"Yeah, I just wanted to get out of home." I put the pillow back down and he raised his brows.
"Why?" he asked.
"It's just… oh, you know, she's always there, always telling me things or saying that I should do this or that. It gets too much. It's nice to be a bit away." I smiled at him, but he didn't smile back at me.
"You should respect your mum some more," he said. "You never know for how long she'll stay around."
"Fine, just act as if you've never wished your mom away," I said and felt the irritation building up in me again. If he couldn't take an honest answer, he shouldn't ask me in the first place.
"I have never done that," he said in a stern voice. "Don't suggest such things."
"I am not suggesting anything!"
"You put the pillow down wrongly," he added in.
I reached over and grabbed at the pillow and slammed it back down. "Is that better?" I asked him. His lips stretched out into a fine line on his face, but I just crossed my arms.
"Don't yell at me!" he shouted at me.
"I will if you yell at me!" I said back.
"You can as well!"
"You're here to help me!"
"Then start acting as someone who needs help!" I shouted. Arthur's face turned red, but I'd had enough. I shook my head at him and turned away as I walked to the hallway.
"Where are you going?"
"Home!" I said. I put on my converses and opened the door. "I've had enough of this!" Then I slammed it shut behind me. I got up on my bike and even sent the cat an angry look as it meowed up at me. "Oh, fuck off," I mumbled and drove off.
I didn't even feel bad about it. I simply rolled downhill and stopped by the supermarket. They had two benches outside, so I sat down on one of them as I grabbed my cell phone and wrote Matthew. I couldn't really go home already, because Mom would question me, but I could ask him if he was up for meeting me in town and go do something. I just wanted to get my mind off of Arthur.
A message soon came back to me. 'I have something wild to show you! Come home!', it said. I smiled wryly and was about to answer it as my phone rang. I didn't recognise the number and answered the call:
"Hey, it's Alfred."
"Hello Alfred, this is Nancy. Do you remember me?"
I smiled: "Oh yeah, hey. Nancy from the volunteer centre, right?"
"That's right. Listen, Arthur just called me.." she said and I immediately sunk down on the bench.
"Okay, before you go on - yes, I did leave and I am not going back."
"Alfred, I know he can be mean-"
"Hah! That is downplaying it!"
"But he really needs help. He called me a minute ago, he was almost panicking. He felt bad about it all. He wanted for me to ask you if you would come back. Will you?"
I hesitated. It was Nancy whom I'd first talked to when I called about doing volunteer work and she'd been very nice and helpful to me. It wasn't her fault that Arthur was a bother. Still I said: "I don't know.."
"There's been a lot out helping Arthur. He's not always the nicest guy to be around, but he means no harm. He's been through a lot."
"I don't know what he's been through, but that's not a way to treat people," I mumbled, but I quickly added: "But I'll go back to him."
I could clearly hear her smile as she said: "Thank you, Alfred. I appreciate it."
As I'd hung up on her I sat for a few seconds just looking at my phone. Then I wrote Matthew again: 'Sorry, no can do anyway. Cya tonight.'
Then I got back onto the bike and headed for Arthur's house.
As I arrived, it was as if I immediately knew that something was wrong. I jumped off the bike in the driveway and parked it up against the wall as I knocked on the door. No answer. Not even the cat was lying on the doorstep. Just as I noticed it, it came running from around the corner of the house. I smiled at it.
"Hey, how're you?" I asked it and it meowed. I reached out to pet it, but it backed away. That made me wrinkle my brows. "Are you scared?" It meowed again and ran to the corner of the house. Then it looked back at me and meowed a third time. I looked over my shoulder and knocked at the door again, but as I still got no answer, I followed the cat.
I'd not walked around the house before and I hadn't even known that it was possible. Even on the side of the house Arthur had been planting his roses nicely. They were all white here and blooming lovely. If it wasn't for the cat's constant meowing, I would've stopped to admire them, but instead I followed it to the backyard which I knew from last Tuesday's visit.
The door out to the garden was still open as I'd left it, but I couldn't see Arthur anywhere. I cleared my throat shyly: "Arthur? It's Alfred again," I said and took in a deep breath. I walked towards the door as I kept talking. I tried to sound like the mature one of us: "I am sorry about earlier, I got a bit too upset. But we can talk about it, right? Arthur?" I still got no answer and by the time I reached the door, I realised why.
Arthur was lying on the floor in front of the sofa. It looked like he'd fallen, because the table had moved and his cup of tea had been knocked over and tea was spilling everywhere. I ripped the door open and stepped in. He was conscious. I could hear him moaning from the floor and see his fingertips move, but his legs got him nowhere. "Arthur? Fuck, man, what happened?" I hurried over to kneel by his side. He lifted his head and looked up at me, but I could tell he wasn't really gazing at my face.
"I can't see," he whispered. "It's gone again. I can't see."
I felt a shudder run down my spine and my heart started racing. I had no idea what to do. I ripped at my own hair. "Should I, uh, should I call for an ambulance? Fuck…"
Arthur shook his head: "Help me up. It'll go over, just get me up."
I pushed the table aside and didn't care much as the cup skipped down the top and hammered to the floor and broke. As I had room, I pushed my arms in underneath him and easily lifted him up. It almost surprised me how light he was; I knew Arthur was lean and probably didn't carry around much weight, but that I was able to just hold him up in my arms like this still surprised me.
I took a quick decision and headed into the bedroom with him. His legs dangled from my arms and I realised that he probably couldn't feel them. The way they moved weren't natural. It was as if he was just a doll. I put him down on the bed and watched him as he gasped in air a few times.
"Are you sure I shouldn't call?" I asked him and as he gasped in air again, I reached for my phone. In the same his slim fingers closed around my wrist and I stopped in the movement. He was looking at me, this time actually seeing me as he was gazing right into my eyes. He shook his head.
"No calls," he said. His voice was fragile and almost begging, and I immediately moved my hand away from my phone and grabbed around his fingers instead. I sat down next to him on the bed and just held his hand in mine while his breathing slowly stabilised itself. He was gazing up at the ceiling silently and I wasn't saying a word either. The cat came running from outside and jumped up into the foot end of the bed where it curled up by his feet. It was as if the touch of its fur woke him up. Finally Arthur coughed and his toes moved a little. I felt relieve go through my body. I'd feared the worst.
"Thanks," Arthur mumbled and I looked back up at him. His forehead was a bit sweaty, but he was smiling slowly as he looked at me. I nodded shortly.
"No problem.. How are you feeling? Can you see?" I waved one of my hands in front of his face and he lightly growled and moved his head away.
"Yes, I can see."
"Good." His feet started moving some more and finally he pushed his hands down onto the mattress as he shoved himself a bit up in sitting position. He leaned back against the head of the bed and looked down towards the cat before drying the sweat off of his forehead and into his sleeve. I watched him closely. "You really weren't kidding, hah?" I mumbled and he looked at me. "When you said that thing about being ill.."
"No, I wasn't," he sighed.
I hesitated a bit. "Is this why you've been sitting down all day?" I asked as it suddenly hit me and he nodded. I immediately felt guilty for thinking he was just trying to keep an eye on my every move. "Oh…"
"You thought I was just annoying you, didn't you?" he asked and I nodded honest. That made him laugh a bit. "Oh my.."
"I'm sorry," I said, but he held up his hand as if to stop me and shook his head.
"No, I'm sorry," he said and swallowed. He looked at me tired. "I should've known better than to start such a silly discussion."
"Well… it was rather silly," I admitted. "But it was childish of me to just walk away." Arthur looked back down at his cat and I did as well. "Kitty here showed me where you were."
"He's a good cat," Arthur said and nodded. The cat purred loudly as if it knew we were talking about it. I shyly scratched my cheek and looked at Arthur.
"So.. You really don't know what is causing these seizures?"
He shook his head: "I've been to several doctors. I get pain killers and stupid advice, but none of them can really figure out what is wrong. Now I've given somewhat up on it all."
"You can't give up on things," I said and wrinkled my brows, but Arthur laughed.
"There's a limit to how much I can pay in medical bills. At some point I have to stop and just accept things as they are."
"But what when you're alone? What if I hadn't come? It can't be good like this!"
"You learn to cope with a lot," Arthur said and put his hand on top of mine as he squeezed it gently. "Alfred, don't get upset about this. I'm sorry you had to see it, but if you'll be hanging around for a while, it'll probably happen a lot." He looked me in the eyes and I felt pain as I realised that he was being serious. It was one of those times in life where I just wished there was something I could do, but there was nothing for me to do. Nothing at all.
"I'm sorry," I said again for some reason, but Arthur just shook his head. "Is there anything I can get you?"
"No, I'm fine," he sighed.
I nodded and slowly got up. "Then I'll be getting on with my chores."
Arthur watched me as I headed to the door. He then cleared his throat: "If you just clean the tea, it should be okay."
I looked back at him. "Really?"
"You did it all last Tuesday," he said. "It's not that dusty in here after all."
I smiled brightly: "Thanks man." He smiled back at me and this time I knew it was an honest smile.
I cleaned up the tea and threw out the pieces of the cup. Meanwhile Arthur got back up on his feet and managed to move back into the living room. As I was done, we sat down with a glass of squash each and just chatted about nothing at all; the weather, his garden, what I do in my spare time and just where did I get those muscles from? I could've been wrong, but I almost felt as if he flirted with me. But it was charming. It seemed that if he wanted to, he could be a really nice guy.
As I headed home that day, I felt happy for the first time since I started working for him. I was actually looking forward to meeting him again the following Tuesday and I was so caught up in my own thoughts that I hardly noticed I'd arrived at home. I parked my bike and was met by Matthew at the front door. He looked like he'd been smoking something again; his eyes were all over, but most of all on me as he grabbed me by the arm and dragged me upstairs.
"Look at this!" he chirped.
I'd wanted to apologise to him for not making it home to him as I'd originally intended, but he seemed to have forgotten all about that. I was placed in front of yet an online newspaper article. "What's this now?" I asked.
"It's the continuation," Matthew smiled and took a puff of a smoke I hadn't noticed he had. It was home rolled, I could tell.
"The last article we read! See," he said and eagerly pointed to the screen, "it says that they were mistaken; only two of the three in the car died. One survived but with serious injuries. They thought he was going to die, but he survived. Arthur Kirkland survived."
I leaned in and gazed the article. He was right. "That still doesn't make it the Arthur I work with," I said, but Matthew already had that part covered; he scrolled down the site to a photo at the bottom. Then I had no doubt; that was Arthur's face. A few years younger, but certainly him. I recognised the woman next to him as well though her eyes had been covered; it was the girl I'd seen on his wall as well. The one I'd thought was a girlfriend. It had been his mom.
"Crap," I mumbled.
"Wild stuff, isn't it?" Matthew asked and took yet a puff of his smoke. I almost gagged on the smoke and waved it away, but he just laughed at me.
"That explains why everyone says he's had it tough."
"Wild stuff!" Matthew repeated.
"How did you even come across this?" I asked him and he sat down by the laptop again. He snubbed his smoke out in the ashtray next to the keyboard.
"I Google everything and everyone," he explained. "Want to see my research on my manager?" I shook my head and left his room under protests.
I couldn't really believe it; Arthur had nearly died in a car accident? Was that why he had these odd seizures? I found it hard to believe that he hadn't just let me know if that was the case. If he had, I would've been able to feel with him and overlook his nasty behaviour. So why did he keep it such a secret?
Tuesday it was raining. By the time I made it to Arthur's house I was completely soaked. I expected some sort of comment as he opened the door for me and looked at my sticky clothes, and he didn't disappoint me.
"Have you ever heard of a raincoat?" he asked me and let me in.
I shuddered as I stepped into the warm hallway and looked down at my shoes. My converses were sopping. As I untied them, I had to wriggle them off of my feet to get them off. "I was caught by surprise," I said and dumped them on the floor before peeling off my socks. Arthur looked at them as I held them in my hands and let them drip. I looked at them as well. "Can I, eh, may I walk barefooted?"
Arthur smirked: "You learn. I have some slippers you can put on. Go to the kitchen and I'll get them for you."
I walked to the kitchen and took in a deep breath. It smelled like in a bakery. I noticed his oven was on and I immediately skipped over to look through the glass. A row of buns were being baked in there. Some of them had already gotten a nice, golden colour to them. I looked over my shoulder to check that Arthur hadn't come back before I opened the door and took in a deep breath. It smelled of chocolate. I wondered if he'd put any in them.
"I like to bake," Arthur said as he walked into the kitchen. I closed the door and stood up and blinked at him. My glasses had steamed up and I couldn't see anything. As I took them off and wiped them off in my sleeve, he smiled at me as if I was some silly kid. "Here," he said and threw the slippers to the floor.
"Thanks man." I stepped into them and shivered lightly as the cosy fabric wrapped around my naked feet. They were simple and blue.
"And this," Arthur said and handed me something soft. I put my glasses back on and grabbed at it. It was a big, soft sweater. "Change into that, else you'll catch a cold," he said and I smiled.
"That's nice of you."
"I'm not being nice," he said, "I am being reasonable."
"Okay, that's reasonable of you," I corrected myself and snorted. I hung the sweater over the backrest of a chair and pulled my tee off. Though I was partly naked, I immediately felt warmer. It could just be because I was standing close to the oven, but I sighed and shrugged my shoulders before dropping the tee to the floor. That's when I noticed Arthur was staring at me. His gaze slipped from my stomach up across my chest and then the looked me in the eyes. He blushed lightly and I stuttered: "Uh, should I go change somewhere else?"
"Just put it on," he said and looked away. I quickly slipped the sweater on and grimaced.
"Fuck, it's itchy."
"No problem." Arthur picked up my shirt and reached his hand out for the socks I was still holding. I handed them to him puzzled. "I'll put it in the tumbler. You can start hoovering," he said. I scratched my elbows through the sweater and nodded.
"Do you like Elvis?" I asked.
Arthur peeked out from the kitchen. He'd spent most of the time in there moving stuff around. I supposed that now he couldn't be in the garden, he had to focus on something else, so baking was next. I wondered why he only had such girly hobbies.
"What did you say?" he asked me.
I turned around and held up three of his Elvis records for him to see. "Elvis," I said, "do you like him?"
"He's alright," Arthur answered and shrugged.
"You have a lot." I turned back to the collection and shoved them back in where they belonged before I flickered through the names of the other artists.
"I didn't buy them," he said and started walking over to me. "They belonged to my mum."
As he mentioned his mom, I suddenly remembered the article Matthew had showed me. I looked up at him as if to trace any sign of sadness in his eyes, but I couldn't see anything in the dim light. The clouds outside were dark and shadowing for the sun, but still Arthur had only turned on a single light in the larger room.
He looked down at me. "What?"
"Nothing," I said and stood up.
"No, what is it? You were giving me an odd look," he insisted.
I tried to shrug it off, but still Arthur followed me as I walked towards his bedroom to start hoovering in there. "It's because you mentioned your mom," I finally said and turned around. Arthur stopped in the doorway and I could tell he didn't understand a thing. I shook my head and shyly looked down at the slippers I was wearing.
"What's with my mum?"
"Matthew, eh, my brother… he found this article online, well, two articles actually. Your name was in them." I looked up at him. He still looked puzzled, but then it was as if he suddenly realised something. He slowly nodded and turned around.
"Oh that," he said and walked back into the living room.
"I didn't mean to be rude," I quickly said and hurried to the door, but he just waved me off.
"I have to go look at the buns," he said and started rubbing his head as if he had a sudden headache.
I sighed and decided not to follow him. But I felt bad - really bad. I knew I shouldn't have brought it up and for the next hour I just worked hard while blaming myself for being such a moron. Meanwhile the weather didn't seem to brighten up. It kept raining and though my jeans had started to feel drier around my legs, they were still rather wet and yucky to wear. I didn't really feel like going back out into the rain, but my time was almost up. I was just about to put the hoover away as I heard a loud bang from the kitchen and Arthur started sobbing. I immediately let go of everything and ran out there.
"Arthur, are you okay?" I found him sitting on the floor with his back up against the kitchen table. He was hiding his face behind his hands while sobbing. I kneeled next to him without knowing what to do. "Is it your vision again?"
He shook his head. "My head hurts so much," he whispered and leaned forward.
"Did you hit it?"
He shook his head again.
"What can I do?"
"Get me a pill.."
"A pill?" I looked around. I noticed one of his cupboards was open. I stood up and looked at the many glasses he had in there with different pills in them. My eyes widened a bit as I went through them; it was like being in the house of an addict!
I found a glass with pain killers in them and took out two. I filled a glass of water while Arthur started moving around on the floor behind me. "Sit still," I said and leaned down as I handed him the pills. He took them and popped them in his mouth, but I could tell he had a hard time holding onto the glass, so I sat down next to him as I held it to his lips and watched him drink. After a few gulps he was able to grab around it himself and empty it. As he put the glass down and sighed, I just watched him quietly.
"Christ…" Arthur mumbled after a minute in silence and he ran his fingers through his hair. His forehead was sweaty, so I grabbed a napkin from the table and handed it to him. He took it thankfully and wiped his face off in it.
"Are you feeling better?" I asked.
"Yes, thanks," he said and crumbled the napkin in his hand. "It happens sometimes. If I don't take anything for it, it stays for hours."
My eyes widened a bit. "Wow, that sounds tough."
"It is. Can you help me up?" I grabbed him by the arms and helped him up onto his feet. He held onto the table and found the chair himself as he sat back down and sighed.
I gave him a look long. "You should have a nurse here to look after you."
"Don't be stupid," he said. "Do you have any idea how much that would cost?"
"It's a disability, isn't it? The state pays for disabilities."
"I am not disabled," Arthur said harshly. I must've looked taken aback, because he shook his head and looked at me as if he was sorry. "I didn't mean to be mean," he said apologising. I pulled the other chair close to his and sat down.
"It doesn't matter. I'm sorry I mentioned your mom earlier."
"Ah, my mum," Arthur nodded and looked towards the table. It was first now that I noticed the basket he'd prepared with buns in it. He'd also made a pot of tea and put two cups forward. "How did you find out? What do you know?"
"Just that they died in that accident," I mumbled.
Arthur nodded and looked down at his hands resting in his lap. He'd stopped sobbing, but he still had wet cheeks. "I should've died there as well," he whispered.
"Don't say such," I said and grimaced.
He smiled a bit: "Why not? Look at me now. I'm only 23 years old and still I have bills I can't pay in a lifetime."
"Do you get these, uh, attacks because of that accident?" I asked and he nodded.
"They told me I would have a year to live in. Talk about a scare; I am still here." He leaned back and folded his hands before looking at me. I looked into his green eyes. I'd only just been told his age, but still I felt as if he was older. He looked so tired; as if he just couldn't wait to sleep in.
"Isn't that good?"
"I'm not sure. Some days I like it, but most of the time.. Well, I never planned on becoming someone others had to take care of. I was even careful all the time."
I listened - I could tell he needed for someone to listen to him. He leaned forward and looked down at the floor as if he couldn't look me in the eyes.
"I was never reckless. Never. I liked it quiet. But it was something I chose. Now I am stuck here like a dying man."
"But you're well so often," I protested.
"You think so? From what you've seen? You've been here four times."
I bit my lower lip as he said that. It was true. I had no idea what was going on in the house outside of the few hours I came by to visit. It made me feel guilty though I knew I shouldn't blame myself. "So you're.. dying?" I asked hesitatingly.
Arthur smiled lazily at the floor: "I am dying." He looked up at me and I saw his eyes were a tad wet. By instinct I just grabbed at his hands and he suddenly leaned in. I almost skipped out of my chair as he fell into my arms and pressed his face to my shirt and started crying. He seemed so small and weak at that point. The same man who'd made me angry from his yelling and odd demands, and whom I'd almost thought of as a liar was just a scared, fragile guy.
I hugged him close as he kept sobbing and I stroked his back.
"I'm not scared of dying," he whispered. "I am just so sick of being stuck here. I just want to die already."
I wanted to tell him that wishing for such is bad, but I found myself unable to speak. No one says such harsh things just out of nowhere. Maybe someone who wants a lot of attention, but not Arthur, I just knew that he wouldn't say it for attention. So I didn't tell him that he was wrong. I just let him cry while I watched the wall behind him go blurry. That's when I realised my own eyes had gotten wet. I was sad. I was honestly heartbroken and I wanted to do something. I just didn't know what.
After a few minutes Arthur pulled back and apologised, but I told him not to be sorry. The mood was awkward, but somehow Arthur was able to distract from it and suddenly just smile and offer me a bun. I could only thank him and accept one.
One became two that became the whole basket. We had buns with jam and butter, and Arthur had tea and I had some squash as we sat by the table for an hour chatting. I knew I was surpassing the time I was supposed to be there, but I actually couldn't care. It wasn't even to be nice to Arthur that I stayed, though I felt like that at first. I quickly came to enjoy his company.
When he was not angry, he was a witty man with a joke to almost everything, but still a lot of knowledge when it came to life. He asked me about my family, but I carefully avoided asking him more about his. I really think he appreciated it and by the time I really had to leave not to miss dinner, he even gave me a hug and I happily hugged him back.
"I'm tired of squash - have some hot chocolate for me next time," I joked as I left, and Arthur told me I was pushing my luck. I just laughed.
"See, I did say you would come to love your job."
I smiled at Mom across the dinner-table.
Matthew was poking around his plate while giving me a suspicious look. "Is he suddenly nice?" he asked me.
"Yeah, he's pretty cool when you get to know him more," I said.
"I'm glad," Mom smiled.
"What about the accident? Did you ask him?" Matthew asked.
I shook my head. "I don't think it's necessary to bring up his past," I lied though that had been just what I'd done. But next time Arthur brought it up himself.
"It's the house we used to live in," Arthur said.
I was standing in his hallway Friday morning looking at the photos on his wall. He'd caught me looking at the picture of the small house in the beautiful garden over and over again. At first he'd mocked me as usually; get to work, are you on vacation, good I don't pay you. But I knew it was all meant friendly and I shrugged it off. Now he was standing with a cup of tea while looking at it with me.
"You and your parents?" I asked and he nodded.
"It was a lovely house. Mum always took good care of that garden. It was like heaven."
"So is your garden now," I said and I could tell he was pleased with the flatter. "You really do a good job."
"Thanks," he smiled and looked down into his tea. "It feels more like home like that."
"Who lives there now, do you know?"
Arthur shook his head: "It was auctioned away as my parents died. I surely couldn't take over it and they thought I was dead anyway."
"What about the rest of your family?"
"In England." He smiled at me. "You guessed it, didn't you? I grew up in England. My mum moved when she met my dad."
"Uh, so, not your real dad?"
"Not biologically, no. But I think of him as such."
I nodded and we looked over the pictures. He pointed out members to me of his family from England and said a few words, but I could tell he didn't know much about any of them. I got the feeling that they hadn't stayed in touch.
"What about friends? Do you have any pictures of your friends?"
Arthur's face darkened. I knew I'd asked something stupid again. "I don't really have friends," he said slowly and sipped his tea. "We'd been out looking at a house the day the accident happened. We'd pretty much decided to take it. It's.. almost four years ago now. I was having a hard time in college. Bullied."
"Why?" I asked and he looked uncomfortable. "You don't have to say," I mumbled.
"I came out," he said. I swallowed as he looked me in the eyes. "I wanted to be honest, so I came out on my first day. Most of the guys didn't like it. It became hell. Dad had lost his job a month earlier and he had a hard time getting back doing anything. So we thought it was a good time to move and start over. Just a few cities away. Nothing dramatic." He looked back up at the photo of him and his mom. "That it should end like this…"
I knew I had to say something, so I stuttered: "I don't know if I should come out."
Arthur looked at me oddly. "What do you mean?" I shrugged. "You don't have to say such to make me feel better."
"But I'm gay," I said and felt my cheeks redden. I've never said it so openly to anyone. "I.. Well, I have thought a lot about whether to come out in college. I thought it would be the easy way. But now-"
"Never be scared," Arthur interrupted me and I looked at him. His eyes were wide open. He shook his head lightly. "You only have one life. Don't be scared to be who you are."
I felt as if my heart grew and suddenly started beating away in my chest. My palms had gotten a bit sweaty and I closed my hands into fist by my sides before I wiped them off in my pants. "O-okay," I mumbled shyly and he gave me a warm smile.
"Do you want some hot chocolate?" he asked.
"What? You bought it?" I said surprised. He laughed and I followed him out into the kitchen where I saw the can with chocolate powder standing on the table. "Hey, cool! I only said it as a joke, though."
"I know," he said and opened the refrigerator. He pulled out some milk. "You know what? Let's both have some chocolate. It's been a hard day."
We'd only been at it for an hour. Still we both joined in on the little break and had it in the living room while Elvis played on the record player. I don't know if it was because I'd just come out to him and he'd taken it so easily, but I felt as if we were suddenly connecting on a whole other level. The living room wasn't just a living room now; it was a warm, cosy place I wanted to sit in and be in. And Arthur was a warm-hearted man I wanted to spend time with.
So I did.
I started forgetting all about early Fridays and late Tuesdays. I just came by whenever I had the time and considering I was on my break - that was a lot! Arthur always welcomed me. He made me do whatever he wasn't in the mood to do himself or help him out with something in the garden, but he never overworked me.
We started to do things together. Instead of just having me hoovering in one room while he was plucking weeds, we did the chores side by side like best friends. At least I started thinking of us as such. Even though he was older than me, I hadn't met someone I enjoyed spending time with as much as him. Not even high school had been much of a success for me. But Arthur was.
As I came over more often, I also felt better about leaving him by the end of the day. I noticed that he would often get his seizures in the afternoon, so I made sure to be close whenever that happened. It was scary and I can't even say that it became a habit for me to help him, because I always got to reach the point where I almost called for an ambulance. It was hard seeing him suddenly fall down blind and unable to walk as well as having to help him stand when his body suddenly weakened.
He sometimes got angry with himself about it all and started crying, because he didn't want to rely on me this much, but I wouldn't allow for him not to. No matter how much he protested, he would always thank me in the end and hug me or kiss my cheek. It was greater than any pay check I've ever been handed.
A month passed us by and Saturday evening I found myself sitting together with him in his sofa in the living room watching Doctor Who. He'd seemed happy about it as we started, but as the evening progressed, he started to be quieter. I had my arm around his shoulders - don't ask me how I ended up putting it there! - and he was leaning in close to me. I had a bowl of popcorn next to me which I'd stopped offering him as he kept turning it down. Still the smell was all over the room and the greasy salt covered my fingertips. I licked them clean and teasingly pressed my wet fingers to his cheek.
He huffed: "Stop it."
"Is something wrong? You suddenly stopped talking," I said and popped another popcorn into my mouth.
Arthur moved by my side. His head slipped into my armpit. "I've been feeling ill a lot lately. It worries me."
I tried to sound calm as I said: "That sometimes happens. Don't let it bother you too much."
"What if I am dying?"
I grabbed the bowl and resolutely put it on the table before turning to him. He looked at me puzzled as I grabbed him by the shoulders. "You're not," I said sternly. "Stop thinking about death all the time."
Arthur's hands closed around my wrists. "I actually like you, Alfred," he said and I felt my cheeks warm up.
"O-oh?" I mumbled surprised. He was looking up at me with such a warm, nice smile that made it tickle down my spine and I found myself grinning back at him. "I-uhm… like you as well," I said and felt almost shy.
Arthur shook his head with a smile. "I've tried hard not to have anyone like me. In any way. After the accident, well, I am sure to die early." I grimaced and was about to tell him to really stop now, but he held his hand up as if to stop me from saying anything. "It's a fact, Alfred," he said and nodded. "I will die early. I don't know how early, but my body is getting weaker. I just didn't want for anyone to…" He shook his head.
"To what?" I asked.
He looked towards the television. "To like me and have to… deal with me dying. It's not fun losing someone you care for."
I knew whom he was thinking about; his parents. It was so clear though he didn't say it and I ran my fingers gently through his hair. I'd never done that before. He looked up at me. "You can't protect yourself from others," I said. "Even less from their feelings."
"I don't want you to like me," he said and we both laughed because it sounded so pathetic.
I grabbed Arthur by the cheeks and squeezed his flesh teasingly. "But I like you," I sang.
Arthur huffed and turned red. "Oh, stop it."
"I like you," I said again and Arthur looked into my eyes. I looked back at him and my fingers stopped pinching at his skin. Instead they spread out and cupped his face. I wasn't sure what I was doing, but it felt natural to me.
He was so soft and warm underneath my touch, - so very warm. My thumbs slipped in and touched the sides of his lips and he closed his eyes and parted his lips a bit. I felt a strange warmth starting to spread throughout my body. His tongue poked out and just barely touched my thumbs and I slipped them away, let my hands slip back into his hair and leaned in as I kissed him.
Arthur didn't protest the slightest. He pressed back against my lips and soon his fingers took a hold of my shirt. My head turned to the side and my lips parted as I let my tongue into the kiss. I felt suddenly impatient. It was as if I couldn't have enough of him. His smell, his body, his breathing; my hands dropped from his hair to his waist and I pushed him back onto the sofa as I followed above him. He just let me do it. He dropped to his back and spread his legs as I dumped in between them on my knees, my upper-body leaning down to meet with his. One of his hands skipped in between us and grabbed at mine and our fingers slipped in between one another.
As I finally felt his tongue meet with mine, I was out of breath.
I pulled my head up a little as I took in a deep breath. Arthur was looking up at me flustered. "I-uhm," he mumbled and I almost feared he would say he was sorry and that he couldn't do this. It would've broken my heart! But instead he whispered: "I don't have a condom."
I snickered. First I tried to suppress it, but soon I was laughing out loud and I fell on top of his body as I couldn't keep myself up. He started chuckling as well, but he had to push me away as he couldn't breathe underneath me. Instead I sat up and grinned down at him. "We don't have to have sex!" I said.
"Well.. I just thought!" he chirped and hid his face embarrassed.
"I wouldn't mind," I grinned and scratched my cheek shyly. I looked him up and down. I really wouldn't mind. "But.. We don't have to do it all now, yeah?"
Arthur nodded behind his hands and then peeked out at me. I leaned down and pecked his chin.
"Okay," he said and smiled.
"And no more death-talk," I said.
"For now," he answered and then stroked my cheek. "I like you," he added and I leaned into his touch.
"I like you too."
We didn't officially become anything after that; someone who's dating the other or boyfriends. Generally we tried to avoid anything public. Still the neighbours of course couldn't help but to notice I'd started hanging around a lot. Especially the lady next door who'd heard me yelling, but she didn't seem the least annoyed that I was coming by. Rather she smiled at me and waved whenever I passed her by on my bike.
"Seeing Arthur, are you now?" she asked me once and I could only grin:
"Always, ma'am, always!"
Mom also noticed I was out a lot, but she didn't know I was seeing Arthur. It would've been odd telling her that and I should've come up with a very good explanation as to what was going on with me and my 'boss'. Instead I told her I was seeing some friends. She didn't ask me where I suddenly had a lot of friends from. She was just pleased to have me out of the house - especially now as she'd noticed Matthew's home-rolled smokes and had something to be angry about.
Being out of her focus gave me the freedom I'd longed for and whatever else I needed I found in Arthur's lovely being. We soon started to act like a couple when I was at his house and I loved every second of it. It was like having a secret life that no one else knew about, and though I would still help Arthur out in the house, it didn't feel like work. It was just something I did because I liked him and wanted for him to live nicely.
Arthur paid me back plenty in hugs and kisses, and I soon became addicted to his touch. Worst thing was leaving him after having snuggled up on the bed for hours just touching and stealing kisses. But I had to spend the nights at home.
I couldn't help but to lie in my bed at night pondering if he felt lonely. Did he stay up sometimes because he missed me and did he wish that he was healthy, so that maybe he could come visiting me? Because Arthur's biggest scare for life was that he couldn't take care of himself. It was the reason why he only left home if it was necessary for him to do grocery shopping or get some air. He didn't want to take the bus and suddenly collapse with no one around to help him.
"When I am at home," he said, "at least I am not bothering anyone."
It was hard to see how much Arthur planned his life around never getting in the way of others.
But that was to change, because after two weeks of being all over each other, I one day found Arthur sitting outside in his garden looking through an album with old photos in it. His cat had taken up the other chair, so I moved it to my lap as I sat down.
"Hello," I greeted cheerfully.
He smiled at me and leaned in so that I could peck his cheek. "Hello handsome."
"What are you up to?"
Arthur put the album on the table and pushed it over so that I could see it. It held several photos of the same house as he had a picture of inside. I smiled a bit. "You keep coming back to that place, hah?"
"On Saturday it's been four years since the accident," Arthur said and I blinked.
"Every year I think of returning," he sighed and looked at the album. "Just to see what it looks like now. How is the neighbourhood. There was a hill I would run to when I was younger and I would sit there and watch the sunset. Mum always let me, because she knew I would be back as soon as I'd enjoyed the sight."
I smiled a bit: "That sounds well cute."
Arthur closed the album. "I believe it's the best place on earth to watch the sun set."
"then why don't you do it?" I asked him. "Go on Saturday. It's Thursday today, right? You could leave tomorrow with the train." Arthur looked at me tired. Then I remembered: "Oh right… you don't do public transportation."
"I can't even drive myself. I mean - imagine I would go blind while on the road!"
"That would suck," I mumbled in lack of better words.
Arthur slipped the album down into his lap and looked at his cat in mine. I stroke across its fur and he reached in to do the same. "It's the one thing I've always wanted to do," he said quietly. "To go back and see it all. I keep thinking about it. Especially at this time of the year." He got up and held the album with a shrug. "Well, nothing I can do! Do you want something to drink?"
I just nodded and watched him head back in. I could tell he tried to sound like he didn't care all that much, but he clearly did. I looked around the garden. He'd made it all so pretty, exactly like he remembered it. It was almost as if he tried substituting what he couldn't see with something he could. But it just didn't do the trick.
I started to ponder; if just Arthur had someone that could follow him, he wouldn't have to worry about being in public. If he became weak, the person could just take care of him and make sure everything went smoothly. But it had to be someone he trusted and someone who knew what they were dealing with.
Someone like me.
"Hey, Arthur," I said as he came back out holding two glasses of lemonade. "What if I went with you?"
He put the glasses on the table and laughed. "You?"
"Yeah, me," I said with a grin. "I can go with you. It's within reach if we take the train, isn't it?"
"Well, yes," he said puzzled. "But you can't."
"Think about your family. Wouldn't your mum be suspicious?"
"I can come up with a lie," I said and grabbed at one of the glasses. The cat jumped down from my lap and I was able to move closer to Arthur as he sat down. I took a sip of my glass while looking at him suggestively over the edge of my glasses.
Arthur sighed: "Don't lie to her."
"What else? Tell her I am leaving with you in the early morning?"
He snickered: "No. Al, really, think about it." He looked at me with a sigh. "Yes, we can take the train, but it'll take at least six hours to get there. We'll have to spend the night somewhere."
"I'm sure we can find some place cheap," I said.
"I don't know," Arthur mumbled.
I put my glass down and grabbed his hands. I held them between mine as I looked him in the eyes. "We're doing this, Arthur. We are."
He looked back into my eyes and then he nodded: "Yes, we are." Then he laughed. He suddenly lit up into a happy mood and grabbed me by the cheeks and kissed me. I grinned into the kiss.
"If I'd known it would make you this happy, I'd suggested it long ago!" I chirped.
Arthur just shook his head. "Better think about what you'll tell your mum."
"You've gotten a girlfriend?"
Mom was smiling all over as if I was one of her friends gossiping away. I nodded shyly and had to bite the inner of my cheek not to grin from the lie.
"Where did you meet her?" she asked. "Is this why you've been away a lot?"
"Oh, you figured it out," I said and she seemed well pleased that she'd made sense of it all. "Yeah, she's from the centre I sometimes work out at. Well sweet."
"What's her name?"
I had no idea. "Nancy," I said as that was the first that came me to mind.
Mom grabbed my hands and squeezed them. "This is so exciting, Alfred!"
"Isn't it?" I tried to smile, but it was hard not to laugh.
"What is exciting?"
We both looked towards Matthew who'd just come home. He dropped his bag in the hallway where we were standing. Mom smiled: "Al has found himself a sweetheart!"
"Oh?" Matthew choked. I could smell he'd been smoking. Clearly Mom could as well.
"Matthew, where have you been?" she asked, her sweet voice going to stern in a second and she let go of my hands.
"Skateboarding," he lied.
Mom could smell the lie - well, we all could - and she grabbed him by the arm. "We already went over this! We'll have to talk." She started dragging him up the stairs.
I stepped aside and cleared my throat: "So will it be okay if I sleep over? From Saturday to Sunday?"
Mom looked over her shoulder and shortly let go of Matthew's arm. "Of course, just be home at lunch." Matthew took the opportunity to run up the last stairs and to his room. Mom chased him. I don't think she'd really given much thought to my girlfriend and I, but that was just my luck.
"Thanks Matt'," I mumbled and smiled devilishly. Everything was going just fine.
And so it happened that Arthur and I booked tickets for the train to go Saturday morning. Arthur was out of his mind as I showed up to walk with him to the bus stop. He'd not packed anything, because he didn't know what to pack. He hardly ever left home and he'd pretty much forgotten what was needed when outside the house. As he opened the door, he looked at me with wild eyes.
"I can't go!" he said shortly and hurried to his bedroom. I dropped my bag in the hallway and followed him.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I can't have all my pills with me. What will I need? And clothes! I don't know. I just don't."
I entered his bedroom which was chaotic. He had spread his clothes everywhere and by the foot stood his bag open. I couldn't help but to laugh, but he just seemed angry as I did.
"It's not funny!" he said.
"Just take a shirt and some underwear. And socks," I said and picked out a random shirt for him.
"Not that," he said. I have him a long look and he blushed a bit: "Sorry."
"Go figure out what pills you need. I can pack this," I said and he nodded and disappeared towards his bathroom. As he was out there, I folded a simple, blue shirt up together with a pair of socks and some underwear. I packed it down and brought the bag into the bathroom. Arthur had collected a little bag of pills. I put his toothbrush down while he showed it to me.
"The blue pills are for when I can't walk," he said and I nodded. "Yellow if I start having headaches. These white ones are just in case."
"What are they?"
"Pain killers. And those white ones are also just in case."
"Stronger pain killers?"
"If you don't die naturally," I said and let him pack the pills, "this medication will get to you."
"Don't be silly," he said. "How about a towel?" I nodded and he put the towel on top.
"Good," I said and closed his bag. "See, that was easy, right?"
Arthur nodded shyly: "I suppose."
"Why did you panic?"
He shrugged: "It's just… Well, we need to catch the bus, right?"
I smiled and nodded and I carried both our bags while Arthur put his shoes on and grabbed a jacket. We started walking to the bus stop.
"So how long has it been since you last drove a bus?" I asked him. "Was it before the incident?"
Arthur shook his head: "I took one two years ago. I had to - I needed to get to the hospital, but it wasn't urgent, so I couldn't call an ambulance. I didn't have the money for a taxi. So I drove the bus."
"What happened?" I asked as I felt something did.
Arthur sighed. He was quiet for a few seconds. "I got a headache," he then said, "while I was sitting in the back. It got worse and my vision failed me and I fell to the floor. I could hear people around me, but no one helped me up. As I finally was able to see again, my wallet was gone."
My eyes widened and I felt my fists twitch. "Fucking hell," I mumbled. I could clearly feel the anger in me starting to build up. "Assholes."
"That's why I avoid it," Arthur mumbled.
I honestly felt for him.
As we got on the bus, I could tell Arthur was hesitating, so I paid for both our tickets and found us a seat. I let him sit closest to the window to feel more protected. We only had to drive for fifteen minutes, but I wanted for him to feel alright.
Watching Arthur was like watching a child on a plane for the first time. Surely he knew what it meant to drive a bus, but he still seemed pretty excited about actually doing it. I couldn't tell if it was a happy excitement or more of a scared one, but he held my hand the whole time and kept glancing out the window. Still he seemed relieved as we were at the train station and could step out.
"What did you tell your mum, by the way?" he asked as we went to get our tickets.
"I told her I'd gotten a girlfriend."
"Oh," he said, "is that what I am?"
I grinned at him: "Do you like it?"
"Put a boy in instead, then maybe I do." We looked at each other and then away with a shy blush. It was as if we'd just agreed on it; we were boyfriends now.
We'd each paid for our own ticket, because though Arthur could hardly buy anything because of his many loans, he denied having me pay for him. I hadn't mentioned anything about where we would be sleeping that night, because I figured I would just pay for it myself, no matter where it would turn out to be. I didn't want for Arthur to worry about money on this trip.
We had to change trains once, else we just sat down most of the time chatting. At some point Arthur started feeling sick and he had to lean his head in my lap as his vision got blurry. Someone yelled 'gay!' at us, but after I'd thrown them a fist, they shut up and kept quiet for the rest of the ride. They didn't even react as I went with Arthur to the toilet because he felt like throwing up. I guarded the door as he emptied his stomach and afterwards I helped him wash his face and swallow some pain killers. He sobbed and told me it was all a bad idea and that maybe we should turn around, but by then we'd already driven for four hours and it wouldn't make any sense to go back now. He seemed stressed about it, but as we were finally able to step out at the right station, all his worries went away.
It was late in the afternoon and we were sweaty and hurting a bit from the ride. Still Arthur took in a deep breath and smiled as he looked around. "We're really here," he said and stretched his arms high above his head.
I put my arm around his shoulders and nodded: "We are."
The town Arthur had lived in before was small - but certainly pretty! I could tell that he recognised the roads immediately and he grabbed me by the hand and started guiding me in one direction while telling me about the things we were passing by. Most of the town was situated on a hill. On top was the church and down from it stretched on one side a park, on the other side a residential area. We were walking in between the small, neat houses and watching their pretty gardens.
"Everything is as I remember it," Arthur said. "Everything."
"That's lucky," I smiled. "A town can change a lot in four years."
"It's all so pretty!"
We turned around corners and I looked just as much as Arthur. The gardens here were well kept, most families seemed to have cats or dogs and there was a constant barking somewhere. Still it didn't annoy me. It was as if it all just fitted together like in a perfect dream.
I could tell we were getting closer to Arthur's old home, because he started walking with hurried steps and at some point he let go of my hand and skipped across the street alone. I laughed and followed him slowly and turned around the same corner as him. That's when I saw the house.
It was like in the picture. The garden wasn't as beautiful, but the house had been kept well. Arthur was standing by the garden gate as he was shamelessly leaning in over it to look. I joined him by his side.
"There it is," he whispered.
"How is it?" I asked him and he smiled brightly.
Arthur walked alongside the fence before walking back to me again. He pointed to the first floor of the house. "I had my room up there. The living room was there, downstairs. It was always clean and I wasn't really allowed in there. Mum wanted to keep it nice for guests. But I played in the garden with Dad instead. He once built me a three house. We had a huge apple tree right there," he said and eagerly pointed to the corner of the yard.
He was eager as he kept telling me about the house. He was smiling all the while. I could tell he was reliving his memories vividly. That's when the front door to the house opened and a dog came running out. It headed straight for us, barking and jumping up the fence. Arthur stepped back with a laugh. Then a lady appeared in the doorway.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"Sorry we're looking," Arthur said and smiled at her as she came closer. "I used to live here."
"Oh?" She looked from him to me and then back again. "You can't just park here. It's my home," she said.
Arthur's smile fell a little. "Will it be okay if we saw the garden just? The back yard?" he asked but she shook her head. Now she started to look worried.
"Go away before I call the police," she said and turned around. Arthur gave me a helpless look, but I shook my head.
"It is her house," I said, though it pained me to see his smile fade. "We can come back later," I suggested.
Arthur nodded: "Let's do that."
Instead we started walking around the town. It was easily done, but it was a cosy walk, because Arthur seemed to have stories about everything. He told me about how the bakery used to be a supermarket where a mean woman worked, and how he used to annoy her by feeding her cat treats. "She wasn't nice to it," he said, "so I started taking care of it."
"You like cats, don't you?"
"I love them!" he said.
"Don't miss kitty at home already," I joked, but he didn't take it as a joke.
"I'll try," he said. "I left it plenty of food in the kitchen."
"I'm sure he'll enjoy that!"
It got later in the afternoon and soon it was early evening, and it started turning dark. We had a light dinner at a cafeteria; a sandwich each with a cup of coffee to go with it. (Or well, coffee for me, tea for Arthur - he was English after all). Then we walked back past the house. There was light on inside, but we couldn't see the shadows of anyone. Arthur leaned against the garden gate again as he took in a deep breath.
"The flowers smell lovely," he said.
"I think you should go in and look around," I said, but he shook his head.
"I don't want to be rude. This is okay. This is perfect." And so he just stood there for fifteen minutes smelling the flowers. I didn't say a word to him, I just stood by his side and watched him smile. It made me feel all warm and happy inside. I couldn't ask for more.
The sun was on it's way down and we still hadn't found a place to spend the night, but Arthur was in no hurry. He wanted to make it to the hill he'd told me about so that we could watch the sunset together. We had to walk quite a distance, further than I think he remembered it as. It was on the other side of the church, so we had to pass by there first, go down and then uphill once again. I'd thought it would be too much on Arthur, but he held my hand tight the whole way and walked with determined steps. I just followed along at his pace.
The hill had no paths alongside it, so we had to make out way through the grass. Arthur almost slipped a few times and I was about to as well, because the weight of the bags dragged me down. But we made it to the top and I had to admit; Arthur was right. This sight was really worth it.
From up here we could see most of the city. In front was the church and behind it the houses going up and down alongside the hills. We could see the train station and a single train leaving. We could see even further than that! I tip-toed and felt excited as I tried to spot the next city, but even up here that was too far away.
"Wow," I mumbled.
Arthur smiled: "It's perfect, isn't it?"
"It really is."
With the sun setting, a cascade of wonderful orange colours were being spread all over and made it seem like everything was glowing. We sat down on the grass side by side and watched as the colours turned more and more red as the sun went down.
"I understand why you missed this," I said and placed my hand on top of his. His fingers were cold, so I tried to warm them between my own. "It's stunning!"
"It's probably not the best on earth," Arthur admitted. "But it's good enough for me."
"Well," I said and looked at him, "I suppose at some point we all just have to let go and accept what we have."
Arthur looked me in the eyes and nodded. "Indeed."
We didn't say else as the sun set. Arthur leaned in and rested his head on my shoulder and we stayed like that for an hour. The cold started getting to me and creeping up my skin, but Arthur didn't move.
"Don't you think we should find a place to stay at?" I asked him as it had almost gotten completely dark and the lights in town were turned on all over.
He shook his head: "Can't we just stay here?"
"Here? All night?" I was sure he had to be joking, but he looked at me and nodded.
"Please? I probably won't ever go back," he said.
Of course I should've known better than to say yes, but I did. I said: "Of course we can stay here." To be exact, I actually just nodded and mumbled: "As you wish."
Would you have been able to turn down his request knowing that he was right - he probably would never go back?
So we chatted all night. We just sat there, frozen and chatting, and sometimes kissing a bit. But we didn't get down to more. We were lucky it was still summer, else we'd probably not felt well the next morning, but as the sun started rising, I only felt tired and my butt hurt a bit. But that was pretty much it. Arthur, however, seemed to have caught a cold. He shuddered in my arms as he woke up from the little nap he took by the end of the night.
"Is it morning?" he mumbled and sat up.
I nodded: "The sun just came up."
"Oh…" He shivered again and yawned as he stretched his arms.
"Are you feeling okay?"
"Yeah… Yeah, I actually had a good night." We smiled at each other. "You look tired," he grinned at me.
"Well, compared to someone, I didn't nap."
He pushed my shoulder playfully and we both laughed before getting up. "Thanks for staying with me for the night," he said. "I know this probably wasn't what you'd hoped for."
"I'd hoped for a nice, warm bed. And a reason for me to have carried this around," I said and gestured to our bags. But then I saw the guilt in Arthur's eyes and quickly added: "But this was actually more fun. I've never done that before."
"Neither have I," Arthur said and then sneezed.
I grinned: "Caught a cold?"
"Seems like it," he said and took in a deep breath and then he sneezed again.
"And you were so careful with my wet clothes back then," I reminded him and shook my head.
"Oh, shut up," he mumbled. But he was smiling meanwhile.
We had breakfast at the same cafeteria we had dinner at and we both used the toilets there to clean ourselves up a bit. We were being given looks, but we didn't care. We snickered like silly kids and that was pretty much what we were.
We took the train back early and I went all the way back to Arthur's place. He said I was being silly and that I could just get off as the bus passed by my house, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted to make sure he felt safe all the way home. He secretly smiled. I knew he loved it.
I dropped him off by his door and handed him his bag. "That wasn't of much use," I said. "Especially not the pills."
"Luckily," he said and sneezed.
I leaned in and pressed a kiss to his forehead. "Now, you go take a warm shower and go straight to bed. I don't want you to be ill."
Arthur laughed: "Okay, Daddy."
"Hey, you're the old one here."
We both laughed and kissed.
"It has been the best day in my life," Arthur said.
"Don't overdo it," I laughed, but he shook his head.
"I mean it. I could die happy now!"
I rolled my eyes and didn't think much of it. We kissed one more time and I told him I would be back on Tuesday. If I'd known that that would be the last time I would see him, I'd held him in my arms and never let go of him. But I didn't. I joyfully took the bus back home without a worry in the world.
Five hours later Arthur died from a seizure caused by his cold. They found him in his bed wrapped up in several blankets and with his cat by the foot. They said it didn't even look like he'd tried to fight it and his dead body had looked peaceful. I just couldn't believe it. I really couldn't.
It was Nancy who broke the news to me. She called me the next morning and told me that the neighbours had been alarmed as Arthur didn't come out into his garden the whole day. The cat had been sitting in the windowsill meowing out at them, but as they knocked on his door, nothing happened. They had expected the worse and called the police. But by then the worse had already happened.
As I arrived at his home the same day, they were already emptying it. I was in tears and was met by Nancy by the entrance.
"I'm so sorry Alfred," she said and hugged me.
"Where is he?" I shouted and pushed her off of me. I leapt to the bedroom, but he wasn't on the bed. I could only see his cat.
Nancy followed me. "He's been moved," she said. "Alfred, I understand you got close-?"
"Where is he?" I yelled at her and grabbed her by the shoulders. She looked at me calmly.
"You can't see him," she said. "Only family."
"Who decided that, hah? Who!"
"He's told me. And it even says so in his will. He has no friends, he said. No one to mourn over his death."
"But I am his friend! I am his boyfriend!" I shouted.
Nancy looked down at the floor. "I can't help you, Alfred."
I felt at loss. I didn't know what to do and I started to hyperventilate walking around in circles in his living room. Nancy grabbed me and got me seated in the sofa where I started to bawl my eyes out. I think she slowly started to understand what had been going on between Arthur and I. She must have; I was the only worker who hadn't quitted with him and had even paid him extra visits. Besides, my reaction clearly told just how close we'd been.
I think I sat for an hour just crying while she held me. Then I couldn't push out more tears. My head hurt and my body was all weak, but I just couldn't cry. "No one will see him," I sobbed. "His family won't come all the way from England. He'll be all alone."
"Maybe that was what he wanted?" she whispered.
Then I started crying again.
The worst was that from the exception of Nancy, I had no one to turn to. No one in my family knew that I was gay and I couldn't really come out now like this. I told Mom that Arthur had died, but she didn't get why I took it so close to me. She said I was being overly sensitive. Then I ran to my room, hid my face in my pillow and continued to cry. For the next few nights I fell asleep like that.
Arthur had been someone who'd entered my life suddenly and left it just as quickly. The last two months felt like nothing compared to the fact that I now had to live the rest of my life never seeing his face again. The fact that college would soon start didn't make it easier on me. Mom kept talking to me about books and getting work and maybe moving from home. But all I could think was Arthur, Arthur, Arthur.
Everyone Arthur had owned money quickly showed up at his house and wanted a piece of the cake. Anything of value was soon ripped away. I am sure they would've taken it all had Nancy not stepped in and made them quiet it down a day. It was a week after his death that she opened the door to his house for me and said:
"Take what you want, but it has to be small and of no value."
Stepping into his house again hurt. I immediately noticed what was missing and what was still there. I'd come to know every little piece of ornament he'd put up and every book on his shelf. Now most of it had been moved, taken or left on the floor. I sat down on the floor in the living room and just took in some deep breaths while I remembered the time we spent in here.
As I closed my eyes, I could suddenly smell the buns from the kitchen and hear Elvis sing. I could taste hot chocolate on the tip of my tongue and feel Arthur's breathing at my neck. It was as if he was whispering to me, whispering wonderful things about life. And he said:
"You only have one life. Don't be scared to be who you are."
I opened my eyes. It was as if he'd really said it. I looked around, but of course I was alone. I huddled up on the floor and took in a few deep breaths as the tears started rolling down my cheeks, but then I got up and started looking through his things.
I was crying all the while. I didn't know what to take, because no matter what I looked at, I figured it wasn't a good memory. In the end I ended back up in the hallway and looked at the photos on his wall. I reached up and took down the one of him together with his mom. They looked so happy and so pretty and it made my heart flutter lightly. Then I also took down the one with the house.
I went out to Nancy with the two in my hands. She looked at me. "Are you done?" she asked. She was smoking a cigarette, but she snubbed it out against the house wall.
I nodded: "Just these."
She looked at the photographs ponderingly, but she just nodded. That's when I noticed the cat next to her.
"What will happen to him?" I asked.
She looked down at him. "They'll probably put him down. I'm surprised he's still here."
I felt a lump work up my throat. "I don't want that."
"Well, what can we do?"
"…may I have him?"
She looked me up and down again. "You?" she asked. "Are you sure your mom will be fine with that?"
"I don't know," I said and the cat came over to me and sat by my feet. "But I don't want him to be put down."
"Well, then he's yours."
It was as if the cat understood. I don't want to make this sound silly, but I really think he did understand; he looked up at me and as I started walking, he followed. Once he stopped to look over his shoulder and I stopped with him, but then he walked with me. We continued past the bus stop. I didn't want for my last memory to be taken by the vehicle that Arthur couldn't stand. Instead I kicked the sign.
"Fuck you," I mumbled and felt the tears build up in my eyes again. I then put the photos into the pocket of my jacket and picked up the cat. It went up easily. I looked into its green eyes. All I saw was Arthur. "There's just the two of us left," I said. The cat meowed and I hugged it close. "But we'll make it. Arthur found his peace, but we'll make it to the very end. We won't forget, okay?" The cat started purring. I buried my nose in its fur as I started walking home while sobbing. That's when it licked my ear.
Arthur had indeed found his peace. I still don't know if I believe them when they said that he decided not to fight his seizure, but it was probably true. It just makes me feel better if I keep believing that he fought to his last breath, and while dying he remembered my face and held onto it as he let go of life. I still hasn't let go of Arthur's face and that's despite it having been two years now. His face is on my wall in my new flat and I look at it every day. The photo of him and his mom, and I realise that he was probably right when he said that it's not good to get close to others, because they cry when you're gone. Maybe that's why I hadn't let anyone get close to me since I lost Arthur.
I will open my heart again one day. But for now it belongs to the only man I've ever loved: Arthur Kirkland.
Note: If you have actually made it to the end, I thank you! I know this is the longest oneshot I have ever made and probably the one with the least action in it. But it's something I have wanted to write for long and so it meant a lot to me to get it down.
So if you read it, thank you! I hoped you enjoyed it!