The rule for book signings was thirty seconds.
Thirty seconds for them to explain how much they loved the book, thirty seconds to explain how much the book inspired them and changed their worldview, and thirty seconds for Oliver to say thank you.
Oliver hated those thirty seconds.
Bonding was easy for him, as if he'd had chemicals in his system that automatically reacted with other people. He could talk to someone in the grocery store as if they were his lifelong best friend, charm his editor into giving him another extension on a deadline.
Talking was easy, and he'd do it all day, if he could.
Annalise, his publicist, was watching from across the room, skimming through the crime section and raising her eyes to stare at him every five minutes or so when he had a conversation just edging forty seconds. She must've kept a stopwatch or something.
Annalise had been with him since day one, when he walked into AK publishing house with a wrinkled and tear stained manuscript for Greedy Gods. He'd given her his soul in the form of poems and stories, words he'd never be able to say. She'd taken it eagerly, eating it up, devouring it like a carnivore.
Oliver never even remotely considered publishing it- it was Michaela, who pushed him into the world like a mother bird kicking it's child out of the nest and waited for it to learn how to fly.
"It'll be good for you," she'd said, "maybe it will give you closure."
"What about him?" Oliver'd asked, subconsciously looking for a photo, for a person, who was no longer there.
"Forget about him."
And he did. He'd tried his best, blocked out the memories and threw them away. It was extremely difficult; memories clung to him, taking his sleep and speaking whenever he gave them the chance. (Which was everyday, every interview, every signing.)
Everyday like today.
Oliver had too many questions about him. Did he lose sleep, too? Did he think about them, too? Did he think about what he ruined, what he lost?
Did he think about Oliver the same way Oliver thought about him?
"Thank you so much," a random voice brought Oliver back into the bookstore, a teenage boy staring down at him and holding out a copy, waiting for it to be signed.
"Of course," said Oliver, scribbling his name across the inside. He managed to wear a mask of a smile- forget about him, Oliver. Please. "I'm so glad you enjoyed it."
"The way you write is so real," the boy added, "it's so inspiring. I want to write like you someday."
Oliver's heart melted - hearing people say this was always the most inspiring, gave his ego a little, unnecessary, boost. He looked up at the teenager, and Oliver saw himself in his glasses, the mess of dark hair and the Star Wars tee shirt.
"You'll get there," Oliver whispered. "I promise."
It was more than thirty seconds.
"Next!" called the Barnes and Noble worker.
"Can you sign my favorite poem, please?"
Oliver recognized the voice. It rang in his ears like church bells, like warning sirens. It was a song, a song Oliver loved but could never listen to. It was calming and worrying at the same time, like watching a thunderstorm.
Oliver recognized the hand. It grazed against his, intertwined their fingers. It ran down his back, it worked its magic and Oliver was entranced. It was a hand Oliver knew as well as his own, as if it were a part of him, branded on his soul.
Oliver recognized the man. He'd memorized his face, engraved it into stone if he ever forgot it. It was a face painted with danger- those devious dark brown eyes, lit up like gems whenever sunlight poured it them, softened whenever they met Oliver's. He cut his hair, but Oliver could never forget the way it felt when he ran his fingers through it.
"Connor," it came out in the form of a strangled whisper.
"Oliver." He held his own copy of Greedy Gods- a thing he was never supposed to see, a thing kept secret from him.
A thing entirely focused on him.
"Go ahead," hissed Connor, his face unreadable. "Sign it." He slid the book across the table, his eyes dark and stormy.
The world faded away, and all Oliver saw was Connor; he was wearing blinders. Connor was standing in front of him- passages, poems, memories, swam through his mind, crashing into him. The air left Oliver's lung, his heartbeat ringing in his ears.
"Next!" The worker said, but they were frozen, stuck in the bookstore while their minds were somewhere else- the apartment, the bed, each other's arms.
"I need a break," Oliver didn't turn around to face the workers. He heard Annalise's heels clicking against the floor as she raced toward them, attacking the situation head on and shouting orders.
"He comes, too. I know him."
Oliver knew Connor Walsh, because Connor was Him.
Connor was the book.
"Connor, I'm so fucking sorry."
The wall was cool against his back, but the room was hot, the air holding him by the neck and choking him. They were trapped in the green room, trapped in a standoff.
Connor was different. He was a cold, sharp and jaded, his edges jagged like rocks on the shore. He stared at Oliver patiently, his shoulders sagged, arms folding over his chest. He was a hugger, reaching for things and bringing them close to himself- he needed something to hold onto, something calming and soft and reassuring.
Oliver was that thing, once.
"Connor," Connor crooned, turning on his heels, "that's my name, isn't it? Or it Cole, Coby, Carter, Calvin? I could go by a lot of names, thanks to you."
Fuck, fuck, fuck fuck-
"You read it, didn't you?"
"Every passage," Connor's words were shaky, his jaw clenching. He was about to cry, about to break, and a part of Oliver ached, screamed. Go over to him, help him.
No. Not anymore.
"I read it in one night," Connor added, "one fucking terrible night. The poems and the stories and the words you used, it hit me, like bullets. Like you were speaking to me."
If only he felt what it was like to write it, to relive the moments, the fights. To close the laptop and cry himself to sleep. To see everyone analyzing and contemplating, trying to decode things that weren't their business, things that were private.
"Connor," Oliver started, "I feel terrible."
Connor straightened, and his voice was hollow. It sent a sick shiver down Oliver's spine. He could be cruel, when he wanted to. "Good, because you should." He leaned in closer, running a hand through his hair.
"Connor," Oliver kicked himself as his voice slightly raised with his permission.
"You don't get to be angry right now!" Connor snapped as quickly as a whip. "But I, I get to be angry, because you- you never told me."
Oliver was silent.
"Is that what you really think of me, Ollie?" Connor was sputtering, words spilling out him, "Is that how you feel about me?" He paused, choking, and when he spoke again a crack sliced his voice in half. "Do you hate me?"
He could never hate him.
Anger boiled inside of his chest, tied knots in his stomach, but Oliver never let it rise.
You love him, you love him, you love him-
"You never let me tell you my favorite poem." Connor said.
Oliver looked up- tears streamed down Connor's face, but his frantically wiped them away, keeping them bottled up inside.
Oliver wanted to cry and he wanted to scream but-
But that was what the book was for.
The book was his screams, his cries, his sadness, his agonizing pain.
And now Connor finally heard it.
"What- what is it?"
Their eyes lingered to the copy of Greedy Gods on the table, to the copy still tightly gripping in Connor's white knuckled hand.
"I wanted him.
I wanted the feeling of his heart in my hands, melting like ice in the fresh sun
I wanted the way he touched me, as if my skin were marble and he was an artist who carved every inch of me until I became his vision
His fingers painted my skin and I felt waves of euphoria crash into me, powerful waves holding me down and shoving water into my lungs
And he was the rain clouds, the bolts of lightning, and I was the water, swaying and striking against every touch, every kiss along my chest
I imagined the clouds rolling in as he said my name and I screamed his as if it were the only word I knew, as if it were my every thought
We were a sea storm
We were both such powerful things, angry at what the world threw at us, angry at each other because
Because it was hard for him to say such simple things, with such simple meanings
I love you
I need you
He didn't speak this language but it was all I knew, I knew the words and the phrases and I knew it as well as I knew him
He spoke words of passion and anger, pent up inside of his steel heart until my hands traveled down his chest and he sang them, like hymns
It was as if he kept them all bottled up into he exploded like supernovas, dying brightly and dangerously
We were each other's religion, we were all we believed in,
But believing does not last for long, it last as long as the night, as long as a dream
It is a good, pure thing that must come to an end
We spoke different languages
Mine of love as I pulled him close, as we spent the night in the cold bedroom and ignored the changing world
His of anger and resentment to the outside, because a boy like him has never experienced anything pure and he is made of metal- silver, steel, cool and unbreakable
I was glass, I was porcelain, I was things made to break and neither of us knew until his hand touched mine and we crashed into the wall like cars on the open road
Languages of love and anger"
⁃ Greedy Gods, page 72.
Oliver wrote it the night the first night without him. The bed was cold, vacant and vast. Connor's side of the bed was abandoned, and loneliness took his place.
They wanted to scream, but they only spoke in whispers.
"I'm sorry, Oliver." Connor said. "I'm sorry I made you do this."
"Connor-" it was the only word Oliver could say.
Connor was gone.
Oliver's phone pinged in his pocked, the vibration muffled by his jeans.
Meet me at Angie's-