WARNING: This story is intended for mature audiences. It contains coarse language, material that some would consider offensive and sexual content. It also contains possibly triggering material amongst which explicit mentions of depression, suicide, physical- sexual- and drug abuse. Read at your own discretion.
Where are my blankets? Was the first thought that entered Ian’s mind. It wasn’t that he was cold, he just wanted to be covered in softness and he wasn’t. He fumbled for them, found the edge of one and pulled it over himself. It didn’t even cover him halfway. He pulled and pulled, but the blankets didn’t seem to be able to move any further, which was weird. Ian gave up.
He wasn’t sure what’s wrong, but as he slowly became more conscious, he realised he rolled himself into the blanket with his move since he was asleep on top of it. With his clothes on. And his leather jacket too.
Why on earth was he wearing his jacket in bed? How did he get home anyway? The pounding headache made it hard for Ian to get a clear picture of yesterday’s events, but as he slowly started remembering he jolted wide awake.
The neighbour, he only moved in yesterday, what the fuck must he think!? Ian couldn’t believe he had actually licked the guy’s neck. Hell, he must be disgusted…
Ian got up from the bed and stripped as he moved to the bathroom. He took out some painkillers from the medicine cabinet and gulped them down with three glasses of water. Then he ran himself a shower and sat down under the stream as long as it took for the world to stop killing him.
He gave up after the mirror had long fogged up and his hands looked like an old man’s. Time for Johnny Cash’s old remedy, Ian thought as he dried himself off, walked to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of whiskey. Hair of the dog, bottoms-up.
He smiled, picked up his guitar and started strumming.
“Well, I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt. And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more for desert…”
His voice came out hoarse and pained, completely congruent with how he was feeling inside. But with the right song everything in life wasn’t as bad as it seemed. Music had healing powers of its own, as had alcohol.
After Ian finished playing some hangover songs, he got up and decided to go over and apologise to his new neighbour. With his behaviour they’d gotten off on the wrong foot, and if you’re a musician, you have to take special care to have your neighbours like you. That is, if you want to avoid being harassed by the police over noise complaints all the time.
After he put on some clothes, he got out of his apartment. Luckily, Ian checked his pockets to make sure he had his keys before closing the door, because he didn’t. He sighed, sprinted back inside, searched for almost ten minutes, then finally found them on his nightstand. Why on earth did he put them THERE?!
Securing them safely in his pocket and checking one more time before really closing his door, Ian walked over to his neighbour’s door and rang the doorbell.
He waited a bit for the door to open, but just before he pressed the bell again, Dylan’s face appeared in the door opening.
“Hey.” He said. “It’s Ian, right?”
“Yeah…” Ian answered, without meeting his gaze. “Um… sorry about last night. I normally don’t sleep in front of my door. Thank you for what you’ve done. And um… sorry for everything else too...”
“Come in.” Dylan said to Ian’s surprise.
Ian looked up and was met with steely blue eyes with a trace of dark circles below them. He estimated Dylan to be in his early thirties, but he could be wrong. He had his black hair cropped short at the sides and a five-o-clock-shadow on his cheeks, but no clear signs of aging. Yet he had the eyes of someone who had lived three lifetimes. Poor guy, and now he’s stuck with me for a neighbour, Ian thought.
Ian hesitantly entered the apartment, which was exactly the same as his own, only emptier. The walls were all white and bare, and the laminate flooring looked new. There were still some boxes waiting to be unpacked, but less than he would have expected, considering the emptiness of the apartment.
“Coffee?” Dylan tore him out of his musings.
“Sure, thank you.” Ian said, a little surprised. Coffee was a good idea. Why didn’t he have a coffee machine?
Ian looked around wondering if and where he should sit. Everything in the apartment looked so clean and new. He was slightly worried he’d dirty things just by sitting on them.
“Mreow…” a purry voice besides his leg said.
Ian looked down, then dropped to his knees to pet the black cat that had started rubbing himself against his leg… It was a large black one with one white paw. He sniffed Ian’s hand gingerly and then rubbed his hand against it. What a sweet thing. Ian considered himself more of a dog person, but he liked the cat all the same. It purred happily as he stroked his fur, even laying down, allowing Ian to rub its belly.
“I see you’ve made friends with Apple.”
Ian smiled as he looked up to find Dylan looking at him, holding up two cups of coffee.
“She’s really gentle.” Ian said as he got up.
“He is.” Dylan answered, emphasizing the gender. He handed a cup to Ian. It had no spoon in it.
“Have a seat.” Dylan said, gesturing to the couch.
Ian did as he was asked, but was still a little awkward with the coffee. He didn’t drink a lot of coffee and if he did, he took it with copious amounts of sugar and milk. Ian wondered if he should say something. He didn’t want to. This man hardly knew him, yet he had carried him to his bed last night, put up with his misbehaviour, invited him into his spotless apartment and offered him coffee. Ian didn’t feel like being impolite. He took a sip of the coffee and winced a little at the bitterness. Other than that, it was good coffee. Ian wondered if Dylan would have that expensive thing with the aluminium cups that rich people had.
“I am really truly sorry about my behaviour last night, I had a gig and, well…”
“No problem. Please try not to fall asleep in the hallway again alright?”
“I’ll try.” Ian said as he gave the man a half smile, then took a sip of his coffee. Immediately the cat jumped up onto his lap, startling Ian into spilling the coffee all over his shirt and the couch.
“Oh god, I’m SORRY!” Ian jumped up. “Oh, your new couch!”
Dylan had gotten to his feet himself. “Take your shirt off and get the coffee off your skin before you burn yourself, I’ll take care of the couch!”
Ian put down his half-empty cup and stripped his shirt. Then he immediately proceeded to the bathroom to cool his shoulder. I’m such a fucking idiot, he thought. As if I haven’t made the worst impression on earth already, no I have to ruin his new couch too. God, if I make one more misstep, the man might be so traumatized he moves out.
The running water over his shoulder cooled off the red burn, which was throbbing a little less than it had a minute ago. Ian examined it in the mirror. It didn’t blister, which was good. A red patch shaped like Portugal marked the pale skin on the right side of his torso. The left was covered in tattoos. With the burn mark, it almost seemed as if his right side had wanted some colour too. Maybe he should get some more ink, Ian thought.
Then he noticed something. On the edge of the sink was a sleek ring. It looked silver. Ian picked it up and noticed the markings inside: “The world is us - 7/7/17”. Clearly a wedding ring. Was there a woman living here too? From the looks of the items on the shelf that didn’t seem the case. Also, if there was a Mrs. Dylan, wouldn’t she be pissed if he’d taken his ring off and just left it lying around in the bathroom?
Ian decided he would forgive himself for thinking something as silly as that, blaming it on hangover brain. Dylan had just moved here, alone, because he was in a divorce. He had so little stuff because the ex kept everything. That’s why he had taken the ring off! He hadn’t thrown it out because maybe he still had feelings for his ex. She was probably the one who dumped him. Aw, he hoped they didn’t have any kids.
Ian looked at the mirror. The burn patch was still red, but it hardly hurt anymore. His face however looked like complete shit. He was now wondering how he had dared to step foot into his neighbour’s house looking like he came straight from the set of the walking dead. Oh man, Dylan’s going through a bad breakup and here I come being the complete horror next door, ruining his new couch and everything…
“Ian, are you okay?” Dylan’s voice sounded from the living room.
“Yeah, I’m good.” Ian said and got out of the bathroom. Walking back to check the couch he noticed Dylan was staring at his him.
“Oh, it looks worse than it is, I assure you.” Ian smiled. Then he noticed Dylan wasn’t just looking at his burnt shoulder. He kept looking too, probably because of the tattoo’s, or… The realisation made Ian slightly awkward, so he put his black long-sleeve back on. Dylan was still looking at him, now at his face. He couldn’t really tell what he was thinking, and the silence got uncomfortable very fast, so Ian just blurted something out.
“So, you’re newly divorced, huh?”
“How ‘d you figure?” Dylan seemed to snap back into the real world.
“I didn’t mean to be rude, but I saw the ring. That, combined with you moving to a new city, only owning seemingly new things… You don’t really have to be Sherlock Holmes to get that you’re a divorcé”. Ian tried to explain himself without making everything even worse than it already was.
“Widower, actually.” Dylan replied softly.
Ian was not expecting that. He now felt like a jerk, bringing the subject up. There must be some nasty backstory, Dylan seemed to be way to young to be a widower. Maybe his wife had gotten breast cancer? Nah, that happened mostly to women in their forties and fifties, right? Oh well she could’ve been older than Dylan. Or a car accident. She could’ve been in one of those tragic…
“How did she die?” Ian asked, he couldn’t help himself.
The silence that followed was devastating. Oh hell, he made it worse. He thought it couldn’t get worse, but here he was, fucking everything up even more. How did he even do that? It must be a curse. Fuck, he needed to write a song about this.
“Want to tell me about those scars?” Dylan said, out of the blue.
Wait what? Oh fuck, that was what he was staring at just then. Ian paled at the thought of having to explain them...
“Um…” Ian stammered, lowering his gaze.
“They’re not the horizontal ones you get in most auto-mutilation cases. These are vertical, these are the ones you get when you mean it. The right one was deep too. I guess you’re a leftie and you started on your right. You didn’t finish the left one, was that on purpose? Did you change your mind, or was it because you nipped the tendon in your left arm and couldn’t put in the force necessary to get the job done?”
Ian felt the blood crawl out of his face as he remembered what actually happened. His heart constricted. He didn’t dare to look his neighbour in the eye no more. How on earth did he know these things? Was he a doctor of some sort?
“I don’t expect you to answer me. I was making a point.” Dylan said in a reassuring voice. “If ever the day comes when you feel comfortable telling me about the scars on your arms, I’ll tell you about the ones on my heart, alright kid?”
“Right.” Ian said, feeling saved. But however good Dylan’s point was, there was also a lingering hint of annoyance for he’d never get to know Dylan’s story. For some reason he was interested in the story behind this man next door.