February. Dom asks him to join the band. Nash has gone and they need a new drummer. They’re sitting in the canteen at college, Ari stealing the chips from Dom’s plate, pushing her tangled hair back off her face, tired and hungover, the raven-haired boy beside her watching warily, picking at the sleeve of his hoodie.
“We’re called The Dream Workers,” Dom says, “Ari’s vocals, I’m bass guitar.”
“And what do you do, darling?” Eames asks the other boy.
“Guitar. And it’s Arthur.”
Eames takes his hand, strokes his thumb across the backs of his fingers.
“How are you doing?”
Arthur bites his lip to hide his smile, and Eames’ mind is made up.
They practise in his garage, bare lightbulbs splashing paintstrokes of yellow light onto the bare brick walls, guitar leads tangled across the floor like a streetmap, notes rasping and deep as they’re spewed out by the amps. Ari wraps her hands around the microphone, nail polish messy, dark makeup smeared around her eyes, t-shirt slashed at the waist, exposing her pale stomach, and Dom smiles at her, in his baggy jumper and worn leather boots.
Eames beats out time, arms muscled and taut, one two three one two three, unchanging and unbroken, watching Arthur’s calloused fingers press against the guitar strings. The too-long sleeves of his hoodie are fraying at the hem, skinny jeans scuffed and ripped, tousled black curls dripping out from under his beanie. His lips are chapped, his fingernails bitten. It’s like every part of him is fraying. He’s brittle and he’s breaking.
March. Eames falls in love with Arthur, skinny and sixteen, because he sings like he’s running out of oxygen, because he plays like he’s running out of seconds. Eames wants to open his hands and kiss his blistered fingers. He wants to wrap his arms around his bony body, and brush his hair out of his eyes. He wants, and he wants. He gives him coffee in chipped mugs and restrings his guitar and calls him ‘darling’, because it makes him smile, shy and small, like he’s almost forgotten how to. Arthur deserves more than this. He deserves sonnets and lovesongs. He deserves poetry and promises. He deserves to be kissed one hundred times every morning before he wakes.
They cover Death Cab for Cutie and Radiohead and The Cure and Dom writes a few songs and Arthur has his own. Eames only gets snatches of them. They’re the few notes he plays at the end of the day, the few words he scribbles on a scrap of paper. Secret and pretty and twisted. Like Arthur. And one day Dom and Ari go home, Dom’s bass guitar slung over his shoulder, their hands in their pockets, sharing Ari’s ipod, its screen cracked, its cover scratched, and Eames says, “Will you play me one of your songs?”
Arthur shrugs, looks down.
“They’re nothing special.”
“Please? For me?”
Arthur’s song is subtle and sweet, with a pretty tune and cryptic lyrics. He sings about the sun and the moon, travellers and lovers and soldiers, and Eames doesn’t understand.
“That was – beautiful,” he says, “But very sad. Reminds me of someone I know.”
“I’m not beautiful.”
“Oh, darling. You are.”
The words are so honest they burn his lips.
May. They play at the Red Lion, crowded and cramped, air heavy with alcohol and laughter, and they sweat and they sing and Arthur’s fingers stumble over the strings. They take the late-night bus home, electric lights harsh, guitars crammed into the luggage rack, open window blasting in the cold night air, and Arthur falls asleep with his head on Eames’ shoulder, the line of his neck bared.
They play at Free Festival, midday, before many people have come, and the sky’s a blue sheet with a few tears of clouds, people spread out on the grass before them, soaked in sun. They join them when their set is over, lying down on their backs, Ari stripping down to her bra to stretch out and sunbathe, Dom beside her, tickling her with a blade of grass, and Arthur rests his head on Eames’ stomach, Eames’ hands lazily fingering through his hair as the music floats by like dandelion seeds.
July. They go to V Fest, and pass cans of cheap alcohol around with people they’ve just met, laughing and talking, and Arthur slumps against Eames, and Eames puts his arms around him, like that’s just how they’re meant to be. They all sleep in Dom’s three-man tent, tipsy and pressed up together under a tangle of blankets, and Eames wakes up when the tent’s filled up with light, his arm around Arthur’s waist. Arthur stirs, and Eames whispers, “Ssh,” and pushes his hair out of his face. Arthur’s eyes open, pupils constricted.
“Morning,” says Eames.
“Get a room,” says Dom, and throws a jumper at them.
August. Dom’s birthday. All of his friends come round his house while he’s out with Ari and they blow up balloons, Eames standing on the back of the sofa, pinning the Happy Birthday banner to the wall, and then they turn off the lights, Eames’ hand brushing against Arthur’s in the darkness, and shout “Surprise!” when Dom comes home. They sit on the sofa eating small squares of cake, and Arthur pushes the icing into Eames’ mouth because he doesn’t like it, and Eames sucks his fingers, grazes them with his teeth and tongue.
“Jesus Christ, you two,” says Dom, “Keep it PG, okay?”
Arthur throws a cushion at him.
Ari texts Eames late that night, his phone lighting up, casting a little patch of brightness in his room.
is there nething ud lyk 2 tel me about u + arthur? ;) Xx
Eames texts back, There’s nothing. Except I love him, and switches off his phone.
September. He goes round Arthur’s the day before they go back to college. They watch a film, something trashy and old, and Eames gives a running commentary and Arthur throws popcorn into his mouth, then stretches out across the sofa, eyes shut, head in Eames’ lap, arm trailing down onto the floor, until the credits roll up the screen and Eames runs a finger along the bridge of his nose and says, “Wake up, Sleeping Beauty.”
Arthur squeezes his eyes shut, doesn’t move.
“She could only be awoken by a kiss.”
Eames leans over, presses a kiss to Arthur’s forehead. Arthur opens one eye.
“You’re not Prince Charming.”
Eames shoves him off the sofa and Arthur drags him onto the floor, laughing and kicking, and they roll over so Arthur’s on top, hair hanging down to brush against Eames’ face, Eames’ hands at the hem of his hoodie, brushing at the skin beneath.
“I want to show you something,” Arthur says.
He takes Eames’ hand and leads him upstairs, their feet heavy on the narrow stairs, to his bedroom. The room’s dark, evening light straining through the thin curtains, and Arthur sits on his bed, slips off his hoodie and holds out his hands, palms up, revealing rows of ugly scars scratched onto his pale arms.
“Oh, darling,” Eames breathes.
He kneels at Arthur’s feet and kisses every scar, slow and faithful, with the devotion of a sinner.
“I haven’t done it for months now,” Arthur says.
Eames traces the scars with his fingertips.
“What made you stop?”
“Someone said I was beautiful.”
Arthur presses their foreheads together, one hand around the back of Eames’ neck.
“And it made me think twice.”
Eames puts a hand to the side of Arthur’s face.
“Arthur. You are very, very beautiful and very, very loved. Okay?”
“Now come here,” says Eames, and pulls him down onto his lap, holds him tightly, Arthur’s head buried in the crook of Eames’ neck.
The next time they practise, Arthur walks in, wearing just jeans and a t-shirt, his scars faded and pink and exposed, and Eames loves him so much he’s choking on it.
“How are you doing?” he asks.
Arthur kisses him then, short and soft, and Eames smiles, because he’s ridiculously in love and he wants this forever. Dom clears his throat loudly.
“We’re doing Make This Go on Forever by Snow Patrol today, guys,” he says, “If you’re quite ready.”
“Just a sec,” says Eames, and Arthur kisses him again.