One week after his twenty-sixth birthday, David Allard lost the key to his apartment. It should be said that David had lost things before - much like everybody did, at some point. Over the past seven years, he'd lost about a dozen pens and pencils, three umbrellas, one book of matches and more socks than he'd been able to keep count of.
He'd never lost anything really important though, like the keys were. Without the keys, David would not be able to open the door, and if David would not be able to open the door, he would not be able to go inside, and if David would not be able to go inside, that meant he would have to remain outside.
It was cold outside, and dark. It was not the kind of weather you would want to stay outside in.
The sensible thing, David thought, would be to go to Alan's place, and then call the locksmith in the morning. There would be a hassle, and people would be asking questions, and by the end of the day, David would no doubt feel very foolish for having lost his key, but at least he would be able to go inside again. It would not be so very terrible.
Just when David turned around to do the sensible thing though, he noticed that there was a patch of snow right in front of the door, right where he had been standing when he had turned the pockets of his jacket inside out while looking for the key. It was not very likely that it had fallen out without his noticing but, David reasoned, if he were to go to Alan's and then come back here tomorrow morning with a locksmith, only to find the key lying on the ground, in a puddle of water, he would feel very foolish. David did not enjoy feeling foolish. He did not think there was anyone who did.
Since it was evening already, and the nearest streetlamp was a good distance away, it was difficult to see whether or not David might have dropped his key in the patch of snow. Happily though, David recalled he had picked up a book of matches when he had met someone for lunch today - not because he smoked cigarettes, as most people assumed when they saw David picking up a book of matches, but rather because David collected books of matches.
He kept his collection in three shoeboxes under his bed, and the other day, he had thought that it might soon be time to get a fourth. He never lit any of the matches though; even when he cooked, or lit a candle, he used a lighter. David felt that some people might think him a little bit strange, but the truth of it was that so many people never used matches anymore these days that nobody thought anything of David not using them either.
Now, though, David needed a light, and he did not have a lighter with him. He only had a book of matches. He did not really want to use one of the matches, but then, he wanted even less to look foolish in front of Alan and the locksmith tomorrow morning. Besides, he told himself, it had been a very long time since he had struck a match.
Perhaps nothing at all would happen.
And even if something would happen, perhaps it would not be something bad. Plenty of things happened to David every day, and most of them were not bad. He had gotten a flat tire the other day, which had been a nuisance, but it had not been bad.
David struck a match.
Two things happened, and he noticed both of them at the same time. The first thing that happened was that the match caught fire and that David could now see that nothing had been dropped into the snow in front of the door. The second thing was that David was no longer alone.
Luke looked very different from the last time David had seen him, and yet, at the same time, he did not look different at all. He still seemed to be about the same age as David - a little bit older, perhaps. His hair still reminded David of flames, as did his eyes. He still did not look like a bad person.
"I'm sorry," said David. "I can't find the keys to the door."
Luke gave him an odd look. "Why would you need the keys?"
There were worse questions he could have asked, David thought. It had been a very long time since David had struck a match and called Luke - a little bit like the way you would not call a person over the phone, even though you had promised them to ring regularly.
"If you want to open the door," Luke went on, "you can just open it." His expression was a little confused, as if he did not understand why David would need to have Luke explain this to him.
David did not believe Luke would understand if David explained to him why he did not want to open the door without using keys. "I should really like to have my keys back again," he said.
"I don't have them." Luke's face turned a little bit hurt now. "I didn't take them."
"I know." David did not think that Luke would take his keys and lie to him about it. To other people, perhaps, but not to David. "I only struck the match because I needed some light." He felt mean, saying the words, saying to Luke that he had not meant to call Luke at all.
"Oh," Luke said in a small voice. "I could help you look, if you want me to?"
David shook his head, more angry with himself than with Luke. "There's no point. I lost them."
"Oh," said Luke, again.
The sensible thing to do was still to go to Alan's, David thought. On the other hand, it seemed very rude to call Luke and then send him away again right away, and David knew that if he went to Alan's place, Luke would not come with him.
"Would you like to come inside?" he asked instead.
Luke nodded his head.
And so David put his hand on the doorknob and went to that place in his head where he had first gone to when he had freed Luke, and then he opened the door. It opened without even a creak.
For most of his life, David had thought he was a perfectly ordinary person, albeit one with some rather rotten bad luck. Even when he had accidentally freed Luke while trying to curse his relatives, whom David had thought to be rather horrible, David had still thought he was a perfectly normal person, albeit one with a very unusual new friend.
He could not quite recall when he had begun to realize that he was, in fact, not a perfectly normal person at all. Perhaps the realization had crept up on him slowly, like a cat slowly inching closer to an unsuspecting mouse, before it pounced. Perhaps he had simply forgotten.
What David did know was that he had not liked it. He had not liked it at all.
Most people might think it rather silly to wish to be a perfectly normal person, but most people /were/ perfectly normal. They did not know what it was like /not/ to be perfectly normal. David did know, and it had seemed to him that if he were to spend more time with people who were perfectly normal, he might become perfectly normal again himself, too. That was when he had stopped striking matches, because Luke was definitely not perfectly normal, even if David still liked him an awful lot.
David liked other things, too, though, like cricket. Cricket was a perfectly normal thing to like, and so David told himself that as long as he had cricket, he would not miss Luke so terribly much.
Like many things people would tell themselves while knowing they were not true, eventually David started believing that it was true. As more time passed, he even started to believe that perhaps Luke had not been real at all; that David had only imagined him, the way people would sometimes make up imaginary friends when they were feeling lonely.
Deep down inside, David had known it was not true, but as long as he had not struck a match, it had not been very difficult to pretend that it was.
Now that Luke was sitting in his living room, sipping coffee out of one of David's favorite mugs, it was very difficult to pretend that Luke had only ever existed in David's imagination, though.
David's apartment only had one bedroom, and he did not quite have enough extra blankets to offer Luke a place to sleep on the couch. It did not seem polite to ask Luke to leave just yet, since it was not as if Luke lived only a few blocks away, or on the other side of the street.
"Would you like me to make some doodles again?" Luke offered a bit shyly, sitting on the edge of David's bed after David had brushed his teeth and changed into his pajamas.
"Yes, please," said David, a little relieved.
Luke's doodles were much like David remembered them, and he could probably have sat up awake looking at them all night, except that at some point Luke stopped making them.
"Good night, David."
"Good night," said David. Right before he fell asleep, he remembered that he had not asked if Luke would still be there in the morning. "Luke?" he asked, softly, even though he did not know if people like Luke slept at all.
Luke did not answer, so David guessed that either he was already asleep, in which case David would see him again the next morning, or he had gone, in which case David would not.
When David woke up, Luke was still there. The early sunlight made his hair look like it was on fire, except that David found himself wanting to reach out and touch it, which would have been a foolish thing to do if Luke's hair had really been on fire.
Luke was still sitting upright, but so quietly that at first, David was not at all sure if Luke had not fallen asleep after all. When David reached for his slippers though, Luke rose and turned around.
"Good morning, David. Did you sleep well?"
"I think I dreamt about something." David did not remember what he had dreamt about precisely, only that he had not liked it. "Something unpleasant, I think."
Luke nodded, and David told himself it was probably his imagination that Luke had looked just a little bit guilty for a moment, as if he had somehow been to blame for David's dreams.
David swallowed. He had never been afraid of Luke before, and now seemed rather a silly time to start.
"How about you?" he asked politely.
"Oh, I don't sleep, so I don't dream very much either," said Luke with a cheer that sounded forced to David. "Shall I make some breakfast?"
"Breakfast would be good," said David. His stomach growled and Luke chuckled.
Luke had made a perfect breakfast. David remembered when he had been living with his rather horrible guardians and Luke had burnt everything they had had for dinner.
"You're not using your gift at all, are you?" Luke asked, when David was putting marmalade on his third or fourth piece of toast. "Why not? Even Wedding wouldn't mind."
David wondered how to explain to Luke that he wanted to be a perfectly normal person. It sounded like a rather silly thing to wish for, now that Luke was sitting right here. David realized that he had missed Luke, and that he would be sorry when Luke went away again.
"There's not a lot I can do with it, is there?" he asked, trying to sound casual.
Luke cocked his head. "You can open every door you want. I'd say that's quite something."
"Well." David felt a little uneasy. "But it's not a very useful thing to be able to do, is it? I mean, it's useful sometimes, but most of the time, I've got a key anyway." David had not had a key to Luke's prison. That, he had opened by accident.
He had opened other doors, after that - the door in the cupboard at Alan's place, a locked box Astrid had found in the attic, a drawer that had been stuck at the place where he worked.
"I can think of a lot of things you could do with your gift," said Luke.
David started to feel a little bit annoyed. "It's my gift, so I get to decide what to do with it."
"Of course." Luke looked chastised. "I didn't mean to make you feel like I was trying to make you do something you don't want to do."
"You didn't," said David. "Sorry. It's just - it's hard to explain. I'm happy to see you again, though."
Luke beamed at him and grabbed another piece of toast. "I'm happy to see you again, too. I missed you."
After breakfast, David went to work. He had never thought about his job as boring before, but that day, he thought about what he had been doing every day for the past three years and what he would most likely be doing on every weekday for the next forty or so years after today.
He could not say he was looking forwards to it very much. In fact, it seemed rather tedious. School had been tedious, too, at times, but he had also had things to look forwards to. Even though he had dreaded the holidays, there had been moments of joy, of playing cricket, of simply having fun.
More than about any other subject, David kept thinking about Luke. Luke did not have a job. Luke was free to do whatever he liked all day long. Luke seemed to think David should stop living a life he did not particularly enjoy. When it was finally five o'clock, David thought that perhaps Luke was right.
"It's just that I don't know what else I could do," he told Luke over the dinner Luke had cooked for them.
Luke looked thoughtful for a moment. "I could think of some things." He said it with such a mischievous smile that David almost regretted having asked Luke's opinion.
"Nothing that's against the law." That seemed clear enough to David. He did not want to open a banl-vault or steal anything.
Luke nodded. "If that's what you want. But there's a lot of doors out there I think someone should open. If only to see what's behind them." This time, Luke's mischievous smile did not disturb David nearly as much. It was a smile that reminded David of when Luke had been a boy of his own age, and when the two of them had gone on an adventure together.
David thought he might rather like to go on another adventure with Luke.
When David told the other people at the office that he would be quitting, they did not seem to mind very much. A few of them asked if he had found a new job, to which David replied that he had not.
At the end of the day, he cleared his desk and that was that.
He felt like a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders when he went home. It seemed a little odd - only two days ago, David had not minded his job at all. Now, he felt happier than he had felt in a long time at the idea of never going back to the office ever again.
"I was not the only one they imprisoned, you know," said Luke. He had made dinner again. David liked eating Luke's food, liked the idea of Luke having cooked it especially for David.
"You were the only one I freed." David did not ask who 'they' were. He did not know if 'they' would notice it if you said their names, the way Luke would know when David struck a match, but if Luke did not call their names, then David thought it might be better if he did not call them either.
Luke nodded. "I was the only one you freed, and I am very grateful to you."
David's cheeks warmed, the way they always did when Luke said such things to him. It still seemed to David he had not done anything so very special to deserve being looked at like that.
"Do you want me to free the others as well?" David asked. He had read about them in the library. They did not seem like freeing them would be a particularly good idea, but then again, David had never regretted freeing Luke, and most of the books had very few good things to say about Luke.
"Only if you want to, of course," said Luke. "Think about it."
"I don't even know if I can," said David. "When it was you, I did it by accident."
"Think about it," Luke repeated.
David did think about it. He thought about it while they ate dessert, which was icecream from the freezer and the only part of the meal Luke had not made, even if he had gotten the icecream. He thought about it while watching a cricket-match on TV, which Luke appeared not to find very interesting, even if David could tell he tried to look like he did, for David's sake.
It was clear to David that Luke tried very hard to please him. It was a little embarrassing, like Luke's insistence that he would forever be grateful to David, yet at the same time, a small part of David was pleased. To know that someone wanted very much for you to like them was not such a very bad feeling. It was not such a very bad feeling at all.
When he had first met Luke, David had never thought about kissing Luke. He had never thought about kissing anyone at all, really.
Now, though, David had met people and thought about kissing them. He had kissed some people - some of them female, but once he had discovered he did not enjoy kissing girls very much, he had tried kissing boys instead. He had discovered that he did enjoy kissing boys.
Kissing boys was perhaps not quite so not perfectly normal as having a friend who could cause fires, but it had still been something that had made David feel different from most people. David had been able to pretend that Luke did not really exist by refraining from ever striking a match. To pretend that he did not enjoy kissing boys more than he enjoyed kissing girls had been much more difficult.
David did not think Luke would mind if David told him he enjoyed kissing boys more than he enjoyed kissing girls. Luke did not seem to be the kind of person who would care about a thing like that.
Still, David found himself reluctant to tell Luke. It was not the sort of thing you could simply tell people out of the blue. Luke had never asked David what people he liked to kiss.
If David told him now, he thought Luke might think that David was trying to tell him that he wanted to kiss Luke, and that would not be true, even if it was true that David had looked at Luke and wondered if he might like to kiss him. David did not know for sure, though. He was only wondering.
The next morning, David once again woke with Luke still where he had been the night before.
Luke once again made breakfast but this time, after breakfast, David realized he did not have to go to work. He was free to spend the day however he wished to spend it.
Somewhat to his surprise, David realized he could think of nothing in particular he wanted to do. He made plans for weekends sometimes, mostly to do with cricket, but he had quite resigned himself that on most weekdays, he had to work.
"Is something wrong?" asked Luke, his expression concerned.
David shook his head. "It's kind of silly, but I can't think of anything to do."
Luke said nothing, but his expression made David remember the conversation they had had the day before. Perhaps David could think of something to do after all.
"Is there any place in particular we should go?" he asked, hoping Luke would understand what David was talking about.
Luke thought for a moment, then nodded.
Following Luke's directions, Luke drove to a subway station that had been abandoned years ago. A lot of signs had been placed around the entrance, warning people to stay away. Luke ignored them, and so David ignored them as well.
They went down the stairs. It was very dark, but then Luke made a small flame in the cup of his hands that gave off just enough light to see by. David did not think it made the place seem any less abandoned and a bit like something out of a scary movie, but all the same, it made him feel a little better. He knew Luke would never bring him anywhere truly dangerous without telling him.
Luke stopped walking when they had reached the platform.
David swallowed as he realized that meant they had reached their destination. He still had no idea what to do. There was no door for him to open, or anything that looked like a door even a little bit. There was only Luke, looking at David as if he was completely certain that David would be able to free the person they had come here to free.
When he had freed Luke, David had been angry. He was not angry now.
When he had freed Luke, David had spoken whatever words had come into his mind. They had sounded like made-up words, even though Mr. Wedding had told him they had not been.
David's mind felt quite empty now. He could not think of any words at all, real or made-up.
"Just close your eyes, David," said Luke, softly, as if he knew exactly what David was feeling. "Stop trying to hard. It will come to you. Breathe."
David closed his eyes and tried to breathe calmly, in and out and in again. He imagined there was a door right in front of him, a door he wished very much to open. He pictured Luke behind that door, and then the words simply seemed to slip into his mouth, as if they had only been hiding in his memory all along.
Luke made a soft 'oh' sound, and David opened his eyes again.
There was a young and very pale woman standing on the platform. She was wearing the sort of dress Astrid would only sigh over at nowadays, before shaking her head and walking on.
She looked at David, then at Luke, back to David, and at Luke again.
"David is the one who freed you," said Luke.
"Thank you," she told David, who could not help but think that she did not sound particularly grateful, not at all like the way Luke had sounded all those years ago.
David felt uncomfortable and a little bit silly. After all, the fact that Luke had been so very grateful had always made him feel awkward, and now he had freed someone who did not seem grateful at all and once more he felt awkward. It seemed there was no pleasing him.
"My name is Helen," she told David. "If you need me, Luke will now how to call me."
Helen did not ride back with them in the car and David felt secretly relieved that she would not be staying with him the way Luke did. He wanted to ask Luke about her, but at the same time he was not at all sure if he would like the answers Luke might give him.
"That went well, didn't it?" said Luke after a while. The expression on his face was very pleased.
"I was surprised I was able to do it," David confessed. "I wasn't sure I would be."
Luke smiled at him. It was a smile that made David's face feel warm. "I knew you could do it."
David looked away. He felt happy that Luke had had faith in him, but he could not help wondering what would have happened if he had failed.
"I'd still love you," said Luke, as casually as if he was commenting on the weather.
David did not think Luke had ever said he loved David before. They had been friends - best friends, even, for however short a while. He did not know if Luke had only picked up on David's looking at him and wanted to please him, or if Luke was being sincere. He did not know if even Luke would be able to tell the difference between being grateful and actually, genuinely liking David.
He did not know if he should care about the difference quite as much as he felt he ought to.
The next day, Luke had him drive out of the city, to a place where you could almost imagine there being no buildings or other people around for miles and miles, if you closed your eyes and pretended not to hear the sound of cars.
It was easier this time to imagine the door in his mind and open it.
Even though he had guessed whom they would be freeing today, David was still surprised and perhaps also a bit scared when he saw the wolf that was standing right in front of him, staring at him and Luke through yellow eyes. It was a very big wolf, and it did not look pleased to have been let out of its prison at all. For a moment, David wondered if it would attack them, but then Luke spoke a few words in a language David had never heard before, and the wolf wagged its tail once before it turned around and walked away.
"Being hungry makes him rather cranky," Luke explained, looking a little sheepish. "They haven't been feeding him very well. Or at all, really."
David imagined being locked up for years and years and never getting anything to eat.
"Are you all right?" Luke asked.
David nodded, and Luke put his arms around him in a quick hug. For a moment, David considered putting his arms around Luke in return, to hug him back and perhaps tell Luke that David should like to know what it would be like to kiss Luke.
"Not here, I think," said Luke, smiling. "Let's go back to your apartment first."
Kissing Luke was quite unlike kissing anyone else. His body felt very warm when David touched it, but not in an unpleasant way. David thought that perhaps that was because he knew that Luke would never burn him or do anything else to deliberately hurt him.
He did not at all doubt that Luke was capable of hurting people, when he wanted to, and sometimes simply because it had not occurred to him that his actions might cause them harm or that this should concern him. He did not doubt it anymore than he doubted that Luke loved him - not out of any kind of gratefulness, but because he truly liked David.
It felt very good to be held by someone who loved him simply for being who he was.
David hoped that Luke felt that, too - that he knew that David liked him every bit as much as he liked David and perhaps even more. True, David had freed Luke from his prison, but Luke had more than returned the favor in helping David deal with his relatives. David had freed Luke by accident, but Luke had helped David knowing exactly what he was doing, and even risking his newfound freedom for him.
"Stop being silly, David," said Luke. "I told you I would forever be grateful to you, and I meant it."
Luke's hands were as warm as the rest of him. David's skin felt cold where Luke was no longer touching him, in a way that even the blankets could not quite make up for.
"I don't want you to be grateful," said David. "I only want you to be my friend."
"All right." David could not see Luke's face, but he could tell by the tone of his voice that Luke was smiling. "Then I will forever be your friend."
On the third day, Luke had David drive to the sea. The trip took them the better part of the morning, and David spent most of it listening to Luke chattering about anything that came into his mind, from the tower of a church they spotted in the distance to a flock of geese they spotted.
When they reached their destination, before they got out of the car, Luke grabbed David's hand and looked at him in a way he had never looked at David before.
"You don't have to do this, you know," he said. "You could turn around now, pick up your old life again. They'd probably even let you have that job you used to have again, if you asked them nicely. I could help."
David looked at Luke's face. It was a little pale. "If you don't want me to do this, I won't."
Luke shook his head. "It can't be my decision. It must be yours."
The sea looked peaceful, David thought. They could drive to a nearby town, get something to eat, watch the sunset. The water would probably be too cold for swimming at this time of year, but David could imagine coming back here in the summer, when it would be warmer.
He could imagine going back to work again on Monday. He'd probably have to apologize to his boss and make up for the past three days, but Luke was right. It probably would not be so very hard.
David thought of Helen, and the wolf, and Mr. Wedding, and Luke.
And then he decided.