Chapter 9: Trapped Emotions
The chirping and squawking of birds stirred Nate from his dream. In it he’d been swimming in a river made of blood and was starting to drown when the birds saved him. Rather than waking up like Snow White, birds bringing him his dressing gown and rabbits brushing his hair, his eyes creaked open and he half coughed half choked as he inhaled suddenly. He stared into the darkness, the only light that of the green numbers on the alarm clock by his side: 4:48am.
The events of the previous night came flooding back behind his eyes; Alex cutting himself and then Nate kissing him. It seemed like that might have been the dream. Movement by his side and a soft sigh made Nate’s hair stand on end as he slowly turned over to look at
Alex, fast asleep beside him.
“Fuck,” Nate whispered to himself, “Did we…?”
He didn’t remember anything other than kissing Alex and then the younger lad saying he was tired. Nate quickly lifted the covers and shoved a hand into his boxers, feeling for any evidence that something other than kissing might have occurred. Nothing. He sighed, relieved and yet still confused as to what had happened after the kiss. He was pretty sure Alex had gone to sleep, tears still wet on his cheeks, and Nate had fallen into dreams shortly after.
He stared at the ceiling now, the first shimmers of daylight teasing at the curtains, and ran his hand through his tousled hair. What happened now? Did they just go about their usual business? Surely the kiss was the end of it, right? That was why he’d been feeling so uneasy recently? The thought sent a lead weight into his stomach and he clenched his fists,
“No. I don’t know what happens now.”
He turned to look at the sleeping blonde once more only to be met with bleary, sleep-deprived blue eyes staring back at him.
“You’re still here?” Alex mumbled as he rubbed his eyes.
Nate simply nodded. He could feel his cheeks burning like a horny school kid.
“Sorry, I’ll go back to my own bed now.”
Alex nodded, already falling back into a deep sleep as Nate stumbled out of the bedroom into the dark corridor. He leant against the wall, a hand on his chest as he waited for his heart to stop pounding so hard and his breath to slow.
When the sky was a little brighter and the hour seemed somewhat reasonable to wake up, Nate clicked on the kettle and made himself some instant coffee. He’d been sitting in the dark living room since he left Alex’s room, staring at nothing in particular and, strangely, thinking of nothing too.
He sipped the hot liquid and winced as it slid thickly down his throat.
Nate jumped at the sound of Alex’s voice having not noticed the younger man enter the kitchen and smiled lopsidedly in an attempt to feign normality. The blonde poured himself some cereal and sat in the chair opposite. After a few minutes of silence, Alex looked up at his housemate and plonked his spoon back into the empty bowl with a clatter. Nate’s emerald orbs stared as Alex spoke.
“So,” Nate echoed.
“I don’t want this to be awkward.”
“So we can pretend it never happened.” Alex smiled thinly and poked around the empty bowl with his spoon, “Don’t worry about it.” He bit his lip as two tiny creases formed between his eyebrows.
“Right,” Nate continued to stare, face completely blank, betraying the confusion that was currently whipping through his brain. Before he could think of something to say, however, Alex had stopped fidgeting and was looking at him once again with those bright blues.
“And thanks, for last night. I haven’t done that in a while… It hurt more than I remembered.”
Nate choked on his coffee, started to cough violently and his eyes almost popped out of his head, which must have surprised Alex as he stumbled over his next words.
“Cutting myself! No- Nothing else.” He cheeks burned and he suddenly found a mark on the tablecloth extremely interesting.
“OH!” Nate’s shoulders relaxed and he sighed loudly, “For a minute there I thought you meant- Something else.” He cleared his throat and tried to sound as sincere as possible, “I want you to know I’m always here if you need a friend.”
Alex had obviously been in a vulnerable state last night and just needed some comfort. And Nate had just been curious, right? He’d fed his curiosity about kissing a bloke and could finally get back to some kind of normality now. He nodded firmly to himself, yes surely that was it. He looked at Alex as the younger male washed up his bowl, blonde hair sticking up all over the place. Alex looked much more relaxed than he had been and the only evidence of what he’d been doing the previous night was the slight blush of red on the sleeve of the too-big white shirt he was wearing as pyjamas.
“How’s your arm?”
Without looking at Nate, Alex shrugged and concentrated on rubbing the tea towel round and round his cereal bowl, “It’s alright.”
“You should put some new bandages on it so that it doesn’t get infected.”
Without realising, Nate was on his feet and was standing over Alex like an elongated shadow. He felt the boy tense next to him and stepped aside to let him through. The blonde looked back as he exited the kitchen,
“I’ll do it when I’m dressed.”
“I’ll wash that shirt, too.” The redhead reached out his hand as though waiting for Alex to strip it off but he made no movement to do so, obviously not comfortable with showing off his scarred body in front of Nate. Realising his blunder, Nate shoved his hand in his pocket and swerved the conversation elsewhere, “Why don’t you wear some pyjamas instead? My shirt’s like a tent on you!”
That brought a slight smile to Alex’s face and he held his arms out; the shirt was indeed far too big on the smaller male, the sleeves alone looked like they could help him take off if a gust of wind got to him.
“We didn’t buy any pyjamas. When we went shopping, we just bought shirts and stuff.”
Nate slapped his hand to his forehead, “Oh, God. I’m a moron, sorry. Let’s go and get some today, I’m not at work.”
Alex nodded, “Okay. I’ll go get dressed.”
He turned quickly, seeming a little brighter than he had earlier, which brought a smile to Nate’s unsuspecting face.
The shopping centre was packed. There seemed to be an air of urgency and panic in the air as the crowds squirmed around the cramped space. Shop doorways overflowed with bodies and parents dragged their screaming kids through the waves of people as someone bleated something over the loud speaker.
“There must be some sort of promotion or something happening!” Nate yelled at Alex so as to be heard over the commotion. He pointed upwards, towards the escalators, thankfully able to see above most people’s heads at his height, “There’s some pretty good shops up there!”
Alex nodded and started towards the escalators before quickly being swept up in a crowd of frantic women with hands fumbling with too many bags. He finally found his way back to Nate, slightly out of breath,
“I can’t get to them, everyone’s going mad!” Alex looked a little flustered, his skin with a slight sheen to it.
He looked back and forth through the bustling shoppers and then locked his eyes onto the lifts. The space near them seemed to be pretty clear and he was sure it’d be easier than scrambling through the crazy consumers. He tried to tell Nate his idea but couldn’t be heard over the booming voice of ‘God’ speaking gibberish over the loud speakers. Instead, he grabbed Nate’s wrist and half dragged him towards the elevators. One was already open and so he wasted no time in shoving Nate inside and jumping in just before the doors pinged shut.
Alex sighed loudly and put his hands on his thighs, out of breath. He turned to look triumphantly at Nate but his elated mood sieved away as he absorbed the redhead’s demeanour.
Nate’s fists were clenched at his sides and his eyes were wide. His jaw was twitching as he clenched his teeth fiercely and beads of sweat had started to form on his forehead. He looked like he might pass out.
“Nate? Are you feeling okay?”
Green eyes the size of planets shot to Alex’s face and he tensed. He’d seen that look a thousand times on his stepfather’s face and was almost certain Nate was about to strike out. Instead, however, Nate started to tremble, his voice jittery and broken,
“What floor is it?”
“We only want the first floor, right?”
Nate nodded like a broken nodding dog and started mashing the ‘1’ button furiously.
“Hey, it’ll only take a minute, stop-“ As Alex tried to calm Nate’s odd erratic behaviour the lift suddenly stopped moving and the lights flickered off. A pale blue hue lit up their faces and a small red flashing light began to pulse on the small screen next to the buttons.
“Shit,” Alex puffed out his cheeks, “Looks like it broke down.”
“Why.” Nate’s voice seemed almost robotic as it wafted through the dark metal box.
“I dunno. I’ll press the emergency button.” Alex’s thin finger pushed the alarm button but only a hollow tin sound echoed back, “Ah, fuck. It’s not working. Do you have your phone?”
He felt Nate nod again beside him and then Nate’s phone was suddenly in Alex’s hand. He was about to ask why Nate didn’t just use it when a clammy hand brushed against his fingers and shakily gestured towards the bright screen,
“Ca- Call Si,” Nate all but whispered, his voice almost hoarse.
“Nate, do you feel ill? Maybe it was that donut you had on the way here, it looked like something puked rainbows on it.”
With no response from his lift companion, Alex pressed Simon’s call button and waited for the older twin to answer. After only two rings his confident voice was on the other end.
“What do you want, bastardo?”
“Alex? That you?” There was a sudden intake of breath on Simon’s end and then his voice rattled out like a runaway train, “Is Nate okay? What’s happened? Why do you have his phone? Did he get in an accident? Are you-“
“No, no he’s fine!”
A sigh on the other end.
“Actually, we’re stuck.”
“What? No. We came shopping and got in a lift and-“
“You’re in a lift? With Nate?” Simon suddenly sounded extremely anxious.
“Yeah, I think it’s broken down or something and the alarm button isn’t working.”
“Where exactly are you?” Alex could hear Simon pulling on a coat and then the jingling of car keys.
“Westgate Shopping Mall. I’m sure if you could just ring the management or something they’d get us out.”
There was silence for a moment as Simon got into his car and then his stern voice was suddenly in Alex’s ear again.
“You need to –eep him calm,” the line was starting to fuzz, “Don’t let him –anic.”
“The line’s not very good, I can’t really hear you.” Alex felt extremely awkward talking to the other twin for so long. He’d only spoken a few words to him and now it was one-on-one it was embarrassing.
“Nate’s claustr- He doesn- spa- …”
The phone cut off and Alex stared at the tiny buffering symbol on the screen until it went completely dead. He knew exactly what Simon had been trying to say; it explained why Nate was in such a panic and why he looked so ill. He tilted his head to look up at the younger twin and handed him his phone.
“The battery’s dead.”
Nate automatically put the phone in his pocket and remained silent.
“Hey,” Alex tried his best ‘soothing mother’ voice and lightly touched Nate’s arm, “Simon’s going to sort it, okay? We’ll be out in no time.”
With slow motions, he guided Nate to the back of the lift and forced him to sit down in the hope that being smaller would make the confined space seem larger. It didn’t seem to help much, however, as Nate’s breathing remained rapid and his fists stayed clenched by his sides.
“I’m so sorry for dragging you in here, I had no idea you were claustrophobic.”
Slowly, Nate looked at Alex as he sat beside him and tried to force a smile. It didn’t work, instead he looked almost possessed as the pulsing red light reflected in his hair. He bit his lip to try and stop it trembling and breathed in loudly.
“It’s not your fault. You didn’t know.” A bead of sweat trickled down his temple and he swiped it away shakily, suddenly aware of how stupid he must look. “God, I must look like a fucking idiot.”
“You mean like someone who slices into their own skin just to watch it bleed?” Alex smiled as Nate’s shoulders relaxed a little, “I think we’re both losers to be honest.”
Nate’s knuckles had turned white with the force of his fists and his wrists were aching from the pressure but he just couldn’t seem to relax himself at all. The silver walls of the lift seemed to be closing in on him, constricting his movement and crushing the oxygen from the small space. His breath caught and he clenched his eyes shut in the hope that, when he opened them, the lift doors would miraculously open.
A soft touch on his right hand forced his eyes open and he watched, curiously as Alex lifted his fist with both of his smaller hands and placed it on his crossed legs. The blonde held Nate’s hand there like a precious stone and traced small circles on his knuckles as he spoke into the darkness.
“I don’t mind small spaces,” Alex’s voice seemed far away to Nate, like he was listening to it through a pipe or tube but he tried to concentrate on it nonetheless, “My room at home was tiny. I used to stay in it all day reading comics and stuff.” On his lap, he felt
Nate’s hand tighten again and continued to talk soothingly, “I was a pretty cool kid, obviously.” That brought a slight chuckle from Nate, much to the pleasure of Alex, “What?
You don’t think I’m cool?”
“Oh you’re the coolest. A proper dude.”
The sound of his own voice echoing off the interior of the lift was too much for Nate and his breathing increased once again. He brought his knees to his chest and pressed his palms firmly over his eyes in an attempt to seal himself off from the rest of the world. He was pretty sure he was hyperventilating and would pass out soon. In fact he hoped he would pass out soon so as not to be sitting awake in the box of death for any longer.
Alex felt the panic in the man beside him and desperately tried to think of a way to calm him down. Simon had specifically asked him to keep him safe and he was fucking it up just like everything else he ever did.
“Wh- When did you first know you didn’t like small spaces?” It was all he could think to do, keep him talking, try and distract him.
“You really think that’s a good topic right now?”
At least Nate’s wit hadn’t left him yet.
“Probably not,” Alex admitted, “Then… What was your last girlfriend like?” He thought talking about something nice would help calm the redhead.
Nate breathed a laugh, “A pain in the arse.” He looked down at Alex, “I got stuck in a toilet.”
For a moment Alex didn’t know whether to laugh or not. He opted to cock an eyebrow and looked quizzically at his companion.
“On a plane,” Nate’s hands were balled into fists once again and Alex took one without thinking as the redhead continued his story, “We were flying to Spain. We were seven.”
Alex noted the constant ‘we’s’ whenever Nate spoke about he and his brother and a warmth seemed to fill his heart. He wished he had had such a strong family upbringing.
“I needed to pee,” Nate continued, “So I went to the loo on the plane. I wouldn’t usually do anything without Si but he was asleep so my Mum told me to go by myself. Anyway, the lock jammed and I was stuck in the toilet until we landed.”
“Sounds scary,” Alex felt Nate’s fist relax slightly and rubbed the back of his hand with his thumb.
“It was. But Simon sat outside the door the whole time, talking to me and stuff…”
The sheen had returned to Nate’s skin and he looked extremely pale. He suddenly whipped his hand to his mouth and mumbled through his fingers.
“I might throw up.”
Alex’s comment received a swipe to the head by Nate but he managed to duck just in time, laughing slightly as he did so. With a deep breath, Nate lowered his shaky hand and leaned his head back against the cold wall of the lift. His heart was racing, he was pretty sure that if he looked down at his chest he’d be able to see it jumping up and down under his shirt. His hand was still in Alex’s, their fingers now intertwined, and the human contact felt good.
“Alex?” Nate’s eyes were closed as he spoke into the darkness.
“Was it weird that I kissed you?”
He felt the smaller hand in his own tense for a moment before the blonde answered.
“I’ve kissed guys before.”
Nate’s lip twitched involuntarily, “Oh. You’re gay?”
Nate opened his eyes only to be met with Alex’s bright blue orbs staring back at him. The younger lad was only inches from Nate’s face, his hair tickling his nose. Nothing about it felt uncomfortable though, in fact it felt much better the closer Alex got. Of course, the whole situation would have felt much more comfortable if the two of them weren’t trapped in the cramped space that could fall at any given moment.
Alex seemed to sense the battling emotions in Nate and sat back down beside him, still holding his trembling hand.
“Still feel sick?” Alex asked as he stretched out Nate’s slender fingers one by one.
“Only when I breathe.” Nate stretched out his fingers as Alex traced them gently, “That feels nice though.” He smiled, momentarily soothed as Alex continued.
Silence fell between them. Not an awkward silence that needs to be filled with weather and TV shows but a calm, relaxed silence that felt truly comfortable. Nate’s breathing slowed and his heart teetered down to a steady thump rather than a thundering gallop.
They both jumped when something outside the lift doors clanged loudly and a muffled voice seeped through the gap.
“If you don’t get this fucker open in two minutes I’m going to use your head to pry the doors open.”
It was Simon.
Nate groaned, half out of sympathy for whoever was on the receiving end of his twin’s anger and half out of nausea. Alex took the sound as one of pain and swung his free arm around the taller man’s shoulders as best he could. It looked like a child trying to comfort their parent.
“Just pull them open!” Simon’s voice was becoming irate, “Here, I’ll do it!”
The metal claws of a crowbar appeared through the gap in the lift doors and slowly the sliver of light became a small gap and finally a human-wide space that flooded the lift with artificial light. Simon stood in the light, holding the crowbar like some sort of apocalyptic Jesus figure.
Simon’s arms were around Nate before the latter could get to his feet and then around Alex just as fast.
“Thank you for looking after him, Alex.”
For once, Simon sounded sincere as he unravelled himself from the blonde and helped his brother to his feet. Nate was still shaking and in the brighter lights he looked even worse than he felt. Alex followed the twins out into the mall and offered to get Nate some water as they sat down on one of the benches surrounding a large fountain filled with coins, leaving the brothers alone.
“You moron,” Simon punched Nate’s arm, albeit much softer than he usually would have, “Why did you go in there?!”
“I was in before I knew. I didn’t think…”
“Are you going to throw up? The toilets are over there.”
Nate shook his head, “I don’t think so.”
“Good. Don’t. You know I do when you do.” Simon placed a palm on his chest, “God, that was horrible. Scared the shit out of me when Alex rang. I’m pretty sure I ran over some children on the way here.”
Nate faked a smile. Why he did that he had no idea, he knew that Simon would know immediately that it wasn’t genuine. His brother ran a hand through Nate’s hair, pushing it back from his forehead so he could take his temperature like their mother used to do.
“You’re hot,” Simon pulled his hand away and it came away wet, “And sweaty, yuck.”
“You need to go home. Want me to come with?”
Alex returned with a bottle of water and Nate took it, taking a long swig before answering his brother.
“No, we’re alright. Thanks, Si.”
Simon ruffled Alex’s hair until it resembled something that David Attenborough should be narrating and then drove the pair home, noticing the silent and invisible tether that seemed to be pulling his brother and Alex closer and closer together.