A Brother's Love Ch. 07byethereal_dancer©
19th May 2000
Matt leant against the rough bark of an elm tree and stared out from under it's low hanging branches. Dawn had not long hit and the world was cast in weak, grey light; only the edges of the trees, the glinting metal of recently washed cars and suburban rooftops that were tinted a pale gold showed any sign that there was a clear, bright day ahead.
Bird's began to wake. People bustled about in their houses, getting ready for work, yelling at kids to be ready for school, eating breakfast, making calls...all normal family things. A kid of about thirteen years old rode past on a dark blue BMX, a bag of newspapers slung over one shoulder. He didn't look up at Matt. The kid couldn't see him anyway. He rode on.
Time passed slowly. Matt waited. He'd been here hours, just thinking. He wasn't hungry or thirsty; he didn't need food or water; if it rained or blew a blizzard or a tornado hit right there and then, it wouldn't make any difference. He could feel it, sure, but it's not like he'd get sick or wet or physically hurt. He'd just fade away, think of somewhere else he wanted to be and he'd be there.
Well...his spirit would be there.
He didn't have a body - his body was six feet under in a cemetery a few miles from his old home. He knew that; he'd been to visit. But his spirit - or whatever you want to call it - could do as he pleased. As long as it didn't involve talking to anyone...or touching anyone...or, in fact, doing any normal, human things, things he'd taken for granted every second he was alive.
Being dead sucked.
Being dead and trapped with the living sucked even more.
He'd never believed all that stuff about Heaven and Hell, not really. Not like his mom taught them, anyway. She always said Heaven was a kind of paradise where people went when they died, where they weren't sad or angry and you were never too cold or too hot and or hungry or anything. She always made it sound like some kind of endless holiday, where you could bask by an oasis all day and drink multicoloured fruit juice, the sort that would have cocktail cherries and paper umbrellas in. There would be huge feasts and parties where all your friends came and you could stay up really late because it was never a school night in Heaven.
Hell, on the other hand, was an underground world full of fire and nasty fanged people, ruled by a big red guy with horns. People were always too hot, always starving, always in pain. People were tortured in Hell. Bad people went to Hell. People who hurt other people and were really mean to their sisters.
He'd believed it until he was about seven.
After that, he wasn't sure what to believe. For one thing, their Grandma Harris died when he was seven and she had been really mean - she wasn't nice and smiley like Grandmas were in books and she would tell him off for everything - and their mother had said that Grandma Harris had gone to Heaven, which made Matt wonder; if Grandma Harris could go to Heaven then maybe Heaven isn't just for good people and maybe Hell isn't just for bad people. The thought had puzzled him, so he stopped thinking about it.
He understood now.
Heaven wasn't a beautiful paradise full of all your friends. Heaven was life and the ability to live it and share it with others that you love. Hell...well, Hell was what Matt lived in every day. Hell was to exist in a world where every one around you lived and loved, while you drifted, unseen and unheard, broken and invisible, without ever being able to escape. Matt pushed away from the trunk of the big elm tree, his eyes focused on the house across the street. The front door he'd been watching for the past five hours opened with a distant creak. A slender figure stepped out, blonde curls tumbling across the shoulder of a smart, duck-egg coloured shirt. A fitted pencil skirt hugged her, skin-tight, down to her knees and she wore a pair of black stilettos that Matt knew would make people want to fall at her feet and grovel.
She had a jacket and handbag in one hand, whilst she rummaged through the contents of the bag with the other.
Matt watched her pull out a large set of keys and lock the front door. Then she slid the jacket on and looked up, straight at him. Matt froze instinctively, but another second passed and he knew she was looking straight through him. She flicked her long, golden hair and walked away, down the street.
Matt slowly crossed the street and followed behind her by just a few steps. Any closer and he knew she might feel him - she might turn her head as if hearing a noise, or maybe pause as though trying to remember something. Then she'd carry on, shaking her head in dismissal. That's what she'd done the first time he'd followed her, and he'd kept a little distance from her since. It hurt to be reminded that she couldn't see him anymore.
But he couldn't stop himself from coming.
Natalie had been his girlfriend and his dominating thought on the day he died. They had dated for four months - not long, but long enough for Matt to be going a little crazy over her. She was the coolest girl he'd ever dated; real smart and sexy and funny too. Everything you could want. And he'd been the biggest asshole to her...
On the day he died, Natalie had called asking if he wanted to meet up that night. He knew he had some stupid concert thing to go to with his family but he could have blown it off for her. His parents would have understood. But all he could think of was how his mate, Tom Alcott, had been goading him, joking how Natalie had put out for her last two boyfriends after just a few weeks and yet she'd hardly even let Matt grope her. He thought things were really good between them and yet, she was always brushing him off, saying goodnight before things got too heavy between them.
So instead of just telling her he was sorry and he had to go to the concert with his parents, he'd been a complete ass over the phone, saying that there wasn't much point to them meeting up when he could have as much fun at this crappy concert than he could with her and that he was sick of taking cold showers all the time.
She'd hung up in tears and he'd immediately felt like an idiot, but was too stubborn to ring back and apologise. He figured he'd call her the next day, come up with some serious apology first. But there wasn't a chance to.
It had all happened so fast; he remembered messing about, tickling Lena, making her laugh. She looked up at him, grinning. Then, in a fraction of a second, her eyes expanded - huge, dark pools full of death and fear. Her face was awash with harsh, bright light, making her appear pale and ghostly. Matt saw it coming, in those milliseconds before impact. Time slowed down, seconds felt like minutes and he saw it all; he saw her face, the reflection of the trucks headlights in her eyes, the way the light bathing her skin was too bright to be normal; he saw her fear and the scream that was forming on her lips, yet to be voiced.
And in that second, he'd jumped for her. For some stupid, unnameable reason, he'd leapt forward as if he could protect her from whatever it was that was coming. He covered her body with his own, let his arms snatch her smaller frame from the seat and tuck her beneath him. He wanted to tell her something, that it was okay, that they were all going to be fine, but before he'd even managed to form the words, he was gone.
The truck slammed into their car, all God-knows-how-many tonnes of steel crumpling inwards and shunting into Matt's back; in the front passenger seat, Eve, their mother, had taken the worst of the impact and was dead before she'd even had chance to turn her head. Matt had followed her, not far behind, and a few minutes later their dad had succumbed to his injuries and passed on too. Lena had lain beneath her brother's body, unconscious and losing blood for nearly and hour while the medics and fire fighters had worked tirelessly to cut her free.
For nearly an hour, Matt screamed. He was no more substantial than a breath of thought in a high wind, his spirit weak and confused and in complete shock. He could see his body, crumpled and utterly broken, mashed up in the wreckage of car and truck. He was watching as the medics and fire-fighters worked, cutting apart the mess of steel, pulling his parents free. He remembered watching, abstractly, as a paramedic took his fathers pulse and shook her head, but he wasn't really there. His spirit was clinging onto the faint but present heartbeat that lay beneath his crushed body, the heartbeat of his little sister. She was still alive. Somehow, she was alive.
When they finally pulled her small body from the wreckage, it was quick, confused minutes before she was strapped to a stretcher and placed into the back of a waiting ambulance. Matt stuck close to her side, oblivious to everything around him. All he could focus on was Lena. His mind was a blur as he crouched beside her in the back of that ambulance, begging her to be okay, to wake up, to not give in.
But just before the doors had closed, he glanced up, back at the wreckage of his parents car and saw his body, lying there, devoid of life, while, somehow, his thoughts, his ghost his...something...crouched beside the comatose body of his little sister and begged her not to leave him.
Matt followed Natalie down the street. She hooked earphones into her ear and turned the volume up on a rather expensive looking mp3 player. She caught the 102 bus into town. Matt rode with her, sliding into the seat a few in front of her and looking back. He watched her face, the sadness in her deep brown eyes that still lingered, even after all these years; he traced the mass of freckles that skimmed her cheekbones and her neat little nose; he clenched his jaw as she bit down on her bottom lip, scanning through her mp3 player for a particular song and smiling softly when she found the one she was after.
He could hear it faintly, very faintly, through her earphones but he didn't have to hear much to know what it was. The Libertines - Don't Look Back Into The Sun.
His heart ached fiercely as he realised she was thinking of him. She'd played it over and over after he died, crying for hours in her bedroom while she listened. After a couple of days, she'd got up, gone to her desk and sat down, all red eyed and bed-crumpled. At the top of a notepad, she'd written his name; Matt.
Every word that followed burned his heart until there was nothing left but cold ash.
You're such a jerk! I can't believe you've left me. I can't believe you're gone. It's not even possible. How can it be possible when I'm still so mad at you for what you said? I've been waiting for you to call, wanting to yell at you for being such an asshole on the phone, for all the cruel things you said. You want to know why I've been holding out on you?! Because I love you, jerk! Because I wanted us to mean something other than just sex! Because you matter to me. And now you're not here and I'll never get to say that. I'll never get to tell you I love you. You probably wouldn't have cared and you know what, whatever. You're gone and you're not coming back. So you're a jerk. But I love you. N x
She'd written the lyrics to 'Don't Look Back Into The Sun' at the bottom of the note and scribed "It reminded me of you" at the bottom. At his funeral the following week, she'd placed the letter on his casket, next to a flower arrangement that spelt out his name. She watched it disappear with his body, to be cremated alongside him.
She hadn't cried for him since that day and she didn't play his song for months. Now and again though, even now, he'd find her listening to it, a sad smile on her face as she lost herself in some memory and he knew that she was remembering him. And it killed him all over again.
"I'm so sorry Nat," he whispered, sliding through the seat to get closer to her. It wasn't the first time he'd apologised. He'd lost count of how many times he'd said sorry, but it didn't change anything. He'd still hurt her, still been too stupid and immature to suck up his insecurities and just tell her he loved her. Now she'd never know how sorry he was.
Tears welled in Natalie's eyes, one stray little drop spilling out down her cheek and Matt reached out to wipe it away. He saw Natalie frown, her eyes boring into the space he occupied. Her fingers reached forward, inches from his wispy spirit form and Matt stiffened. She was going to touch him. Would she? Could she? This time, please...
The bus jerked to a halt and Natalie started. As if waking from a dream, she shook herself slightly and stood, shouldering her handbag. She slid from the seat, glanced back worriedly as she made her way to the front of the bus and then stepped carefully down the steps and down onto the sidewalk, out into the soft morning sun.
Mat clenched his jaw, biting back pain and frustration as he watched her depart the bus. Finally managing to pull himself together, he closed his eyes and willed himself off the bus. He appeared ten feet from Natalie, watching her scan the light bluster of morning commuters around her. She was looking for someone and Matt knew who. Tom Alcott, one of his friends when he'd been alive; the guy who'd ribbed him about Natalie not putting out.
He appeared through the crowd, tall and well dressed in a grey suit, ready for a day at the office. He grinned when he saw Natalie, his dark eyes full of the morning sun. Matt watched him approach, wrap his arms around her slender frame and kiss her chastely on the lips. Matt's stomach didn't clench anymore, not like it used to. Tom and Natalie had been together for nearly a year. Everyone said they made the best couple.
They'd said that about him and Natalie too.
Tom frowned when he looked down, seeing a look in her eyes. "Are you alright? You seem...pale."
Natalie swallowed and glanced across her shoulder. "Yeah...I just..."
Tom ducked his head, levelling his eyes with hers. "What, what is it? Are you ill?"
Natalie shook her head quickly. "No, it's not that. It's just...Do you ever get the feeling that you're being watched?"
Matt felt himself tense. Somehow, he knew Natalie was talking about him; she could feel him watching her. Tom looked worried. "You mean like a stalker?" he asked, glancing around nervously, as if he might find someone hiding, waiting to pounce.
Natalie laughed. "No, no...nothing like that," she shook her head and plastered a smile on her face, a smile Matt knew she didn't quite feel. She looped her slender arm through Tom's much thicker one and urged him forward with a tug. "Look, I'm just being stupid. Too much coffee, not enough sleep, you know..."
Tom suddenly swept her around to face him, pulling her close to his body. His thick arms crushed the soft, blue material of her shirt as he held her close. Her smile didn't falter.
"Have I been keeping you up too late?" He asked, giving her a wicked grin. "I never heard you complaining on Friday night."
Natalie slapped his chest lightly and pulled away, rolling her eyes. "Come on, pervert, or we'll be late for work." She walked on, arm in arm with her man, almost, but maybe not quite, forgetting the jerk who broke her heart all those years ago.
Matt watched them walk away, feeling rooted to the spot. The emptiness inside him felt like a lead weight around his heart and he was powerless against it. Life - beautiful, torturous, untouchable life - flowed on around him. Matt stood, watching people begin their day - rubbing sleep from their eyes, yawning, sipping from paper coffee cups. Time passed, slow, painful minutes, until the bells on a church somewhere not so far off began to chime - seven o'clock. The sound startled him slightly, shaking him from his lonely reverie.
Blinking tears from his eyes, he took a breath and willed himself away.