The doorbell rang. Dylan got up from the couch and walked towards the door. Not bothering with any security measures anymore. It had to be Ian, he wasn’t expecting anyone and everyone else that showed up unannounced would use the intercom outside. He didn’t have time to chat though, he had to get to work soon There was a shitload of work to be done, and he had to finish it today before opening, so he could have tomorrow afternoon off to hang out with Daniel, Rick and Jeroen.
As he opened the door, Ian stared at him with a look he could not quite place. Dylan opened his mouth in greeting, but got abruptly cut off when his neighbour flung himself at him, capturing him in a tight hug without a word of explanation.
Dylan had no idea what to do. A little awkwardly, he put one arm carefully around the man in the door opening. He felt so thin. Was he doing alright? It didn’t look like it. What on earth had happened to him after Dylan had gone back to work yesterday?
Fuck it, it’s only one o-clock. I can start an hour later, save some work for Sunday. Dylan thought and dragged Ian over the threshold, so he could close the door. Ian did not let go.
“What happened Ian?”
“I got you a gift.” Ian muttered against his collarbone.
It didn’t make any sense. Why the hell would he be acting like this if he was bringing over a gift? And why was he getting another gift? He had already gotten beers for the shroom-incident and a song, just because he needed it. Why were there more gifts, and why was Ian so emotional about it?
“Ian. You are not making any sense. What happened to you?”
“I’ll tell you.” Ian said, removing his face out of Dylan’s sweater. “Sorry about this. It’s just, I saw you and… Dylan I KNOW. And I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine…” Ian petted Dylan’s arm like it was Apple.
“What are you talking about Ian?”
“I’ve got you a Spotify subscription. Look, give me your phone, I’ll show you.” Dylan handed over his phone, but this was making less sense by the second… Wait.
“Ian, are you high?”
“First floor, same as you. Now look, I’m installing the app. And then here’s you account. Check it out. Username is Dylannextdoor, password is 100morewine@Ian. And see, I’ve even made a setlist already. This is the sad one. I’ll make you a cheerful one later, when you’re ready.”
Yeah, clearly high. Did this kid learn NOTHING? Dylan decided to take a stern tone with him.
“Ian. Thank you very much for this gift, but I’m not sure why I’m getting it, and the hug and the apologies. I really don’t get it. And honestly, your pupils are so wide I can hardly see the colour of your eyes anymore. What are you on?”
“MDMA, but just a bit.”
“In the middle of the day?! Why?”
“I was lacking in endorphins.”
“Ian, for fuck’s sake… have a seat.” Dylan sighed. What was WRONG with this dude? How can you be so talented and insightful on the one hand and so utterly destructive on the other? Or maybe that’s what all brilliant musicians have, why a whole bunch of them die at 27. Then again, if he kept this up, Ian would probably not make it to 27.
Dylan sighed and rolled his eyes at the world as Ian draped himself over the couch, examining the leather with his fingertips.
“So,” Ian started. Then took his long-sleeved shirt off. Dylan raised a eyebrow and took a step back. What on earth was he doing?
“This one…” he pointed to the underside of his chin “… was the first. You can hardly see it now, which is great. I don’t remember getting it too, because I was only two or three at the time, but apparently it was pretty bad and then they took me away from my mom.”
What the hell?
“Ok, then there’s these, look.” Ian turned slightly to show the back of his neck. The dots were barely visible, but it was clear what had made them. “Cigarettes from my foster mother. That was punishment.”
Dylan walked over, knelt down by the couch and took Ian’s hand. “Ian, what are you doing?”
“I’m telling you about the scars. You told me you’d tell me about yours when I told you about mine. But I found out about yours, and now it’s not fair, so I’m sharing.” He giggled.
What the hell could Ian know? Dylan thought for a second. Then realised that wasn’t the point here. The guy was in the middle of opening up. He even felt compelled to take drugs to be able to talk about it. Dylan should shut up and listen, like the psychologist he was supposed to be. Or like a good neighbour. Maybe even a friend. Dylan sat down next to Ian and kept holding his hand.
“Ian, you can tell me anything you want, but only if you want to, Ian. You don’t have to tell me anything.”
Ian looked up at him and smiled. It was an actual smile, nothing forced about it. But maybe that was the drug’s doing.
“Your hand is nice. The fingertips are soft, unlike mine. It’s because you don’t play guitar. I think I want to tell you anyway. It’s not sad anymore because it was long ago and I’m doing better now.”
THIS is doing better?! Dylan thought. But he didn’t say anything. Instead he did what he had been taught at university and listened.
Ian’s story was that of a gruesome childhood. He told it by tracing his scars and telling Dylan how he got them.
His mother had been a prostitute, addicted to heroin. One of her ‘friends’ had threatened her by holding a knife to her little boy’s throat when they had gotten into a fight about drugs or money or something. Either accidentally or out of spite, he had cut the boy so bad he had to be rushed to a hospital. Ian had been taken away by child services after that and had never seen his mother again.
Most of the smaller scars were due to abuse he had suffered in his foster home, or from fights he had gotten into when he lived on the streets after running away. He showed the scars on the insides of his elbows and explained he himself had started shooting up on heroin at some point. The large ones, the slits on his wrists that Dylan had noticed the first time they talked, stemmed from him trying to quit cold turkey and not being able to take it.
Dylan tried to listen as patiently as he had listened to his clients years before, but found it hard not to wrap his arms around the skinny man on his couch. The story fell heavy on his heart, which it shouldn’t. Well it should, but it was weird to feel something in all this time. As Ian finished his story with an ill-fitting: “so after I got discharged from the hospital, I went to rehab. And when I came out, I started over. I’m happy now and no one wants to hurt me anymore, not even me. No new scars, see?” He beamed proudly as he spread his arms.
Dylan was stumped, and aware that was probably visible in his face. He didn’t know what to say, or maybe he did, but he couldn’t. His throat felt swollen and unable to produce any sounds. Instead he leaned in and hugged his neighbour tightly.
They stayed like this for a bit, until Dylan noticed Ian was touching his back with his fingertips in a slightly unnerving manner. Wait, was he sniffing his hair?
“Ian?” his voice came out all strangled.
“Your sweater is so soft, and you smell nice.” Ian cooed. Right. He’s high…
Dylan sighed and moved back a little. Ian was looking at him with his big puppy eyes. Dylan didn’t know what came over him, but he leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on Ian’s forehead.
“Thank you for opening up to me.” He said.
Ian gave him a half-smile. He was now fumbling with the sleeve of Dylan’s sweater, roiling the fabric up and down between his fingers. “As I said, we had a deal. And I know about that scar.” He said, poking Dylan in the chest with one bony finger.
A surge of adrenaline caught Dylan unaware and his eyes widened as he pulled back more. “What?”
“The scars on your heart, you said that the first time I was here. I thought it was a figure of speech, but it wasn’t. You got shot by your lover because you called the police on him.”
He knew about Niels? How? He hadn’t even meant that remark literally, he’d been avoiding talking about losing Sean at the time. It hadn’t even occurred to him that he had an actual scar a little to the right of his heart. How did Ian know?
“You did good. He was a real bastard. I read all about him. I’m glad you survived Dylan.”
Dylan didn’t know what to say. He stared blankly at the man in front of him, trying to stop the images from that horrifying night streaming back into his consciousness. He hadn’t thought about Niels and Jasper for so long…
Ian moved closer and stroked his fingertips over Dylan’s jaw, slowly tilting his chin up. So slow it was tantalising.
His face was too close for comfort, their noses almost touching. Dylan was still frozen. What the hell is he doing? He thought, all internal alarms going off.
Then Ian smiled a toothy grin and got up. He picked up Dylan’s phone from the table and put on a song. It was the song Ian had played for him yesterday, but sung by another person.
After that, he just walked out, leaving Dylan alone on his couch with the song. Completely overwhelmed by the rising tide of emotions inside him.
It was as if a wall had crumbled and he could suddenly feel them all. The shock and insecurity that came with Martin’s sudden death, the guilt and horror that had accompanied reading Jasper’s final note. The raging anger towards Niels, the fear when he pulled that gun. The all but literal shattering of his heart when he fired it.
But those were all old feelings he had felt before. What really smacked him in the face was the accumulation of helplessness that had made him so numb in the first place. The doubt of not being completely sure that you’ve done everything you possibly could to save him. The shame of having given up. The huge hole Sean’s death had actually left in his chest. And then just sorrow.
And Dylan cried.
First, he cried for Sean, then for Martin and Jasper, he cried over Niels and his broken heart, and over poor Jeffrey who he should have saved. Like he should have saved all of them.
Every new song brought a new wave of emotion, carried by the tragic melodies and the singers’ raw and tortured voices. Every word felt real, every note tugged at his heartstrings. It was liberating.