Something about that dream woke me up. It was as though I had been sleeping for a long time, years, in fact - like I'd closed my eyes in that hotel room with a bullet drilling a hole through my gut and the time that had passed since Henry's death had been nothing but a drug-fuelled dream to get me through the stress of a medically-induced coma. Despite our semi-regular but scarce contact since those days in Boston, I sought Francis out with a new level of clarity; I felt we had lost time, between us, what with my moving away and his attempt at death.
He was still under the observation of a strict watchdog in Priscilla, but was all too eager to separate himself from her overwhelming presence under the pretence of catching up with an old school chum. Of course, Priscilla recognised me from the hospital room, which perhaps made it easier to extract Francis, since she knew I was indeed his friend, and not an excuse he was making to escape her. We meandered our way through streetlight-stained roads, trailing off the sidewalk on occasion as we passed between us a cheap and nasty bottle of white I'd bought from a semi-deserted convenience store. It was almost impossible not to get lost in the sight of him somehow - time had not taken from him the startling contrast between red hair and his alabaster skin, the dramatic silhouette of the heavy overcoats he still chose to wear, and I found my eyes drawn to odd places, like the nape of his neck when he bent down after a long sip of the wine, and how long and slender his fingers were, so much thinner than they had been at Hampden but still familiar in their positions and movements - and his lips, where they met the throat of the bottle, flushed in comparison and damp from the wine, and reminding me of days after... after Bunny, that one day, when we had kissed drunkenly in my room.
It hurt to think about that entire incident. To wonder how far I'd have been willing to go in my quest to somehow erase the pain of what we'd done, to let Francis take over and do whatever he needed to do to feel good, before we'd been interrupted by Charles. I remembered that Francis had gone home with Charles that night. Something like envy, or perhaps regret, curled in my gut inexplicably. It was somehow worse than the bullet had been.
When we finished the first bottle, we found another store, and Francis bought two more bottles, handing one to me and opening the other for himself. It is after this point that my memory begins to waver, giving in to the pleasant haze of drunkenness, but I recall us deciding to get a hotel room, but being unable to do so without a reservation at the single hotel we found, and, unwilling to travel much further in our stumbling states, checking into a nearby motel that was much more affordable and much less desirable to spend a night in. From there, my recollections fade further - perhaps my mind fabricated another kiss, fuelled by my attempts to dredge up the details of my past experiences in kissing Francis Abernathy, and perhaps that really did happen, in that motel room in Boston, but regardless, when I awoke to the mid morning sun lazily streaming through a single dirty room to illuminate the twin bed we'd shared, I was slightly disappointed to find myself fully clothed. I'd imagined far more illicit affairs, it seemed, than the tame activities we must have actually partaken in. I was on one side of the bed, my back to Francis but aware of his presence, bleary eyes blinking away slumber to take in the details of the chipped yellow paint on the wall I was facing.
"Good morning," said Francis, quietly but airily. There was something of a challenge in his tone, very faint but definitely there. I knew that when he'd... with Charles, Charles had always dismissed the events at this point and left as quickly as he could. I didn't know if those events had stayed with Francis this long - surely the lawyer named Kim wouldn't have done such a thing - but I felt that Francis was definitely wary that I would do the same, even though, to my knowledge, we hadn't gone that far last night.
I rolled over enough that I could see him, my head tilted back so far that he was almost upside down to me and I was looking up at him. He had his back against the headboard, his overcoat draped across his shoulders but his arms free to hold a book in his hands, some trashy romance he'd found in the bedside drawers last night and read a few passages from in a scathing tone. I noticed he was only using his right hand to prop the page open, his thumb still stiff and motionless, and in this morning light, without his coat, I could see the scars on his wrist, deep purple with healing and turning a shiny red at the edges. At this angle, I was almost looking up his nose - it wasn't flattering, but at that moment, I didn't care. I just wanted to look at him.
"I think I may be attracted to you," I said.
Francis raised his eyebrows, his lips falling open slightly. After a moment, he regained his composure and the corners of his mouth pulled upwards the slightest amount, his face almost flushing with some kind of relief.
"I may be attracted to you too," he replied.
"Don't go back to Priscilla," I said suddenly, selfish desire building in my chest. The thought of this beautiful boy, this ethereal creature I had been hiding from out of fear of the unknown for so long, being forced into such a sham for something as meaningless as money, had gripped me with a cold shiver of something resembling fear. "Come to California with me. We can make it work."
Francis stayed silent and unreadable for a long time. I knew it wasn't that simple, that there was nuance to the situation that I hadn't even begun to comprehend, but still, still, I was desperate for this impulsive thought to come through.
“They’d probably look for me,” he said eventually. He lowered the book as he said it, still holding it in place against his knees with his right hand as he used the left to fold over the corner of one page, as if he were planning to return to it at some point - as if he’d ever find himself in this exact motel room again.
“They don’t know where I live,” I replied. I didn’t know how true that matter was; after all, Francis had found my address easily enough to send me his suicide note, and Priscilla knew that he was with me. I would probably become the first port of call in search of Francis. Nevertheless, I knew in that moment that I would be willing to up-heave my entire life to find somewhere I could take Francis that could keep him safe.
Still, though, Francis hesitated, picking at the sheets absently with his good hand. “And my grandfather wouldn’t approve, of course.”
“Your grandfather,” I said, and then stopped, because I didn’t have a sufficient sentence in mind to be able to channel the sentiment I wanted to direct towards Francis’s grandfather beyond disjointed expressions of hatred and disgust, interspersed with various swear words. I tried again, this time with more success. “Your grandfather’s money is not enough to force yourself to suffer like this.”
Francis exhaled quickly, as if he’d been punched in the chest, and sat very still with his lips parted like he was about to speak, though words didn’t come. Then he turned his upper body to face me, looking down at my contorted position, and put his good hand on the side of my face, cupping my cheek like he had on the row boat in the country so long ago. There was something of a new life in his eyes, a genuine sparkle the likes of which I hadn’t seen since my first term at Hampden, before the deaths and the lies and the drama and anxiety that had led Francis down the troubled path that had led him here, to my side. His face broke into a wide, unguarded smile as he nodded.
"You’re right,” he said, and “Take me with you. Take me away from here,” and leaned down to capture my mouth in a kiss, or something more than a kiss - a promise being made and fulfilled at the same time, a clumsy action from me being in an awkward position and him having to lean down so far, and us still being tipsy and hazy from the night before, his breath tasting like cheap wine and cigarettes but instantly becoming something I could have craved for nights to come.
We left the motel at midday in a tangle of coats and linked arms and desperate body contact, when a landlord or manager knocked on the door and demanded we checked out, and Francis climbed into the passenger side of the BMW, the car that Henry had left me, and we simply left Boston like that.