[November Breaks] BEFORE | 01 | Brett

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TUESDAY 15TH SEPTEMBER 2015

“Do you ever dream about the end of the world?” My eyes are dry, wide, wild. I blink hard. It makes no difference. I blink again and the darkness lasts for a few thousand years.

He lights a cigarette, and the air gets thicker, heavier. “That’s a weird question.”

“I know, but do you?” I’m tapping my fingers against my shin in time with the rhythm in my head, rising and dipping, a flickering frequency. Perched with one foot in the room and the other on the windowsill outside, I can’t sit still. I’m halfway between everything.

“I think so. Not every night or anything. Sometimes, I guess. Why? Do you?” He leans back against the opposite side of the window frame and the air fizzes and crackles in the space between us. The patterns in it float in time with the music, blending and merging, robotic.

“All the fucking time.” I look up, half at the ceiling and half at the stars. They’re pulsating, shifting, spinning. The ceiling is as far away as the sky, or maybe the sky’s unusually close. I want to touch it, but my hands are vapour and electricity and uncontrollable machinery.

“What happens?” He leans out to breathe smoke into the night, then forward, closing the space between us by a few inches. His face drifts in and out of focus, but his eyes are still. They’re magnetic, but I can’t tell what colour they are.

“It depends. It’s different every time, but there are common elements.” The room tilts as the fourth pill kicks in. My words are bouncing off the inside of my skull.

“Yeah?” He’s watching me like he can see through my soul, into the past lives I don’t believe in. His pill should be kicking in too. I don’t know where it sits in the landscape of his night’s chemical consumption, but we both took them at the same time.

I let him watch and I try to gather my thoughts, to catch them before they float away. “Sometimes it’s silent and everything’s silver, the way the light is before the sun comes up, before you start to see colours. There’s something in the sky, then this rush of energy, and it’s forceful. More than forceful. Bigger than that. I always kind of know I’m dreaming and I think I’m going to wake up, but I don’t. I feel every fucking thing, the ripple through the earth, through the air. My skin melting over my bones. All of it.” I lean a little farther forward. My soul and my non-existent past lives are reaching for his and I have no idea what his name is, but he’s the only thing in the world in this moment.

“What about the other times?” He turns his head to release more smoke into the space outside the window and it breaks the spell, but only until he turns back.

I can feel warm hands and icy breath on my face and the back of my neck. They aren’t mine or his. They aren’t there, not really, but I can still feel them. “The other times it’s loud, like fireworks and fighter jets. Those times, it’s always at night and I’m watching it at a distance, getting closer. It’s beautiful, but I know I’m going to die. Then it’s like being inside a lava stream. And then it’s dust. Everything’s dust. I’m dust.” I run my hand through my hair for the cold sensation of it and shake my head.

“If you know you’re dreaming, why don’t you try to wake yourself up?” His eyes are wide too now, open and clear, curious.

“Why would I want to do that? How else am I ever going to feel myself melting or turning to dust? When am I ever going to have an experience that intense?” I rest both hands on the windowsill in front of me, one inside the building, one outside, leaning my weight on my arms. A little less distance. A little more tension.

He says, “When the world actually ends.”

I don’t know which of us makes the first move, if either of us does or if it all just follows the natural order of things, but the kiss is savage.

“What’s your name?” He’s breathless, and it’s stunning.

“Does it matter?” I lean back against the window frame, pulling him with me.

“I want to know, before—”

“Before what?” My heart pounds and I can feel the cells in my blood pushing, charging, fighting and tearing each other apart because they don’t know how to do anything else.

“Before what happens next.”

Nothing’s real anyway. “Brett. And yours?”

“Stefan.”

“OK, Stefan.” I swing my leg over the windowsill and stand up inside. “Lock the door.”

“Whose room is this?”

“I don’t know. It’s a party. Who cares?”

He locks the door, takes out the key and sets it on a bookshelf where we can both see it. I like his style. He seemed a little on edge at first, before we started talking, before I handed him drugs. Now he’s perhaps not calmer, but more at ease, and I’m fascinated. He has this wholesome look about him and a kind of confidence I appreciate. He seems sure of himself, even if he’s not completely sure of the situation. But there’s obviously something deeply fucked up going on under the surface, and I need to find out what it is.

My thoughts are becoming too coherent. I fish the bag with the rest of my stash from my pocket and hold it out to him. He grins, pulls off his t-shirt and falls backwards onto the bed with his arms wide like a crucifixion.

I lift the half-full glass of vodka I had when we first found ourselves in here searching for an open window and carry it to the bed to wash down the ecstasy.

“Is that a good idea?” he says.

“It’s a fucking great idea.”

“No, I mean mixing those.”

“I’ve been doing it all night. Actually, I’ve been doing it for years.” I throw my last hit of MDMA for the evening to the back of my throat, chase it with a mouthful of vodka, and wait for a moment. “Still alive. I think we’re good.”

He sits up against the headboard and holds out a hand. “Go on then.”

I kneel across his lap, push his hand down, and press my thumb against his lip until he opens his mouth. When I set a pill on his tongue and give him the glass, he swallows with a shudder.

“Not your favourite drink?”

“Definitely not, but I’ll accept it as a necessary evil.”

“Isn’t all evil necessary, though, on some level?”

“Shut up.” He laughs and rests his hands on either side of my hips. “Come here.”

I kiss him deeply with the warmth of the vodka and the lingering bitterness of the ecstasy between us. Then I lean back. “Hit me.”

“What?” he says, reaching for a breath.

“I said hit me.”

WEDNESDAY 16TH SEPTEMBER 2015

Later, in the liminal space between night and morning, the elastic seconds when the chemical rush twists and winds, we walk not hand in hand but side by side, rhythmically aligned. Our footsteps echo the music in my head, with the first birds to sing and the first car engines to split the emptiness.

“Brett?”

“Yeah?”

“What do you do?”

“Does it matter?”

“Not everything has to matter. I just want to know. And I assume you’re not doing it at nine o’clock.”

“I’m in tech. Sometimes I work from home.” I’m being intentionally vague.

“What kind of tech?”

“I can’t really talk about it.” I don’t want to talk about it.

“Sounds exciting.”

“It’s not exciting enough.” My side projects are more exciting. They always have been. But we’re not talking about those. “What do you do?”

“I’m in finance. Sometimes I work from home.” Equally vague.

If this is a game, I’m playing along. “What kind of finance?”

“Get a drink with me at the weekend and I’ll tell you.”

“At the weekend?”

His brow furrows. “What’s wrong with the weekend?”

“It’s kind of presumptuous.”

He stops and reaches for my hand, pulling me to stillness in front of him. “What am I presuming?”

“That I don’t have plans already or that they aren’t important. You’re assuming my weekend is free.”

“Do you have plans?”

“I have lots of options. I rarely make firm plans, but there’s always something to do.”

“Well then, do this too. I wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to say do this instead. But as well. Get a drink with me as well.”

I slide my free hand around to his back, under his shirt, to the warmth of his skin. “That’s very forward of you.”

The confusion on his face is delicious. “What have we just been doing and you’re complaining that me asking you for a drink is forward?”

“I’m not complaining at all. I’m pointing it out. Forward is not a problem. Expectations beyond that might be, but forward is fine.”

He shakes his head. “Are you always like this?”

The street’s empty. There’s no-one to see us except for the cold, mechanical eye of the security camera perched above the entrance to a shop we’re standing outside that hasn’t opened yet. I glance up at the camera, into it, flash it a smile and pull Stefan back against the shutters. They fire a metallic rattle into the air from the impact of our bodies. “Yes.”

He rests a hand against my face where a bruise is beginning to colour and swell around my left eye. “How are you going to explain that?”

I lean into his touch and my breath catches in my throat when the pressure becomes enough to trigger a sensory memory of the impact. “I’m not.”

There’s still enough of the ecstasy and the vodka and the line of speed I did on the way out the door from the party in my system to make me consider, for a moment, not ending our night here. It would be so easy. He would do anything I wanted right now. But I know better. I’ve been here before. It would mean too much. To him.

His lips find mine and it’s achingly tempting, but also.

I pull back. “Give me your phone.”

“What for?”

“I’m going to put my number in it and then call myself so I’ll have your number too and we can make plans for the weekend when we’re not both still high. What did you think I was going to do?”

“I don’t know.” He unlocks his phone and hands it to me.

I type in my number. “Get used to that feeling, in case the weekend goes well.” I call myself and my phone rings, shrill in the silence, then I take it out of my pocket for long enough to hang up before I return his to him.

“So, I’ll call you? Or text you?” he says, and the creeping instability of an unfamiliar goodbye works its way into the edges of his voice.

I kiss him one more time, sinking my teeth into his lip until he makes a sound that has me reconsidering for a second time in as many minutes if our night should really end here. Then I step around him. “Yeah, you do that.” And I walk away towards the taxi rank around the corner without looking back.

THURSDAY 22ND OCTOBER 2015

I stretch, licking blood from my lip, and savour the warm pulse of pain. Everyone’s blood tastes different. Some I’ve liked. Some not so much. I’ve always enjoyed the taste of my own. I season it well. Another shot of vodka and the sting of strong alcohol against the split in my skin is perfection.

Stefan looks impatient, but entertained. “So, are you interested?”

“I might be. Your timing, though. Are you trying to catch me off guard?” If that’s what it looks like he’s doing, it probably isn’t. I’m still learning his patterns and tactics. He isn’t as good as he thinks, but he’s better than most.

“No, I didn’t mean it like that. I wasn’t sure you’d be up for it, so I didn’t say anything before and then…” He’s rehearsed this. It isn’t an excuse. It’s a fucking sales pitch.

“You weren’t sure I’d be up for it or you weren’t sure you trusted me? And you did say something before, or you danced around it often enough.”

“OK, I wasn’t sure I trusted you.” That’s the truth. “I wanted to see how you’d react to the subject in general first.”

“And then I did something that made me seem trustworthy?” Mistrust is mutual, commonplace, lingering. We both know that.

“Not exactly, but you’re reliably unconventional.” More truth. Well played.

“Which made you trust me?” I down another shot and season my blood a little more.

“Here it is,” he says. “I don’t trust anyone. Not you, not anyone. Shit, I barely even trust myself. But I’m pretty sure you aren’t constrained by the kind of ethics that limit most people’s potential and that’s what I need for this project. So I trust you not to get all remorseful about it and freak out at the last minute. I trust you to do the thing and do it right. But I still wouldn’t leave you alone with my computer.”

“Smart choice. At what point did my lack of ethics become apparent?” I press my lip against my teeth with my knuckles, smiling to feel the skin split further. It’s distracting to both of us.

He watches with barely concealed fascination. “It wasn’t any one thing. It’s just how you are. I can’t explain it. I get a feeling for these things and I’ve never been wrong yet.”

I drink straight from the bottle and offer it to him.

He shakes his head. “How do you do that?”

“What?”

“Drink so much and stay sharp.”

“It’s both a natural talent and a skill developed over many years of intensive practice.” I reach a hand to the back of his neck and pull him towards me for a kiss that tastes of alcohol and iron. “So, this project. What happens next?”

“Introductions. We get you in a room with the others and take it from there. You’ll be in good company. We have the tools and the plan, but we need access. That’s you.” He turns my hand over and traces the veins on the inside of my wrist with his fingertips.

“What do I get out of this?”

“More money that you know what to do with.” Wrong answer. He hasn’t figured me out as well as he thinks. He lifts my wrist to his mouth and bites down hard, reading me like a ransom note while he does it. So I guess he’s figured out some things.

“I already have that.” I’m trying to focus, trying to stop my eyes rolling back in my head because what he’s doing with his teeth feels amazing. “I mean, look around. I’m drinking more money than I know what to do with. This place is furnished with it. We’ve been fucking on it. Do you know how much this bed cost? It’s ridiculous. I can’t even take my own paychecks seriously anymore. You’ll need to give me more than money.”

He lets go of my wrist and rests a hand against my neck, fingers finding my pulse. “How about opportunity, then? Novelty? Something you’ve never done before? The experience of it? And if you say yes to this, it’s only the beginning. There’s always more.”

“Now you’re talking.” I lean into his grip. Always more.

“And?” His fingers tighten. Only the beginning.

“And yes.”