Pure Innocence (Book Excerpt)
Oliver breathed. A breath so shallow and so insignificant, the urgency and determination with which his lungs insisted on it surprised him, because breathing had been so hard. It had become so impossible to expand his lungs fully; the futility finally stopped him from trying.
He took another small hesitant breath, and stilled in shock, almost. He hated the dampness, the cold, and he tried to protect his lungs against that, but he’d caught a scent of something else—something clean, fresh, that came with a strong voice and gentle hands that didn’t hurt. Oliver desperately wished it was real.
Just four letters. Such a small word for something that filled his mind and summed up his existence. It wasn’t just the horrific hot pokers that stabbed at his fingers and needled his heart. It was the black feeling that caged him, wrapped him up and would never let him go. He wanted to die, but it wasn’t just him—everyone wanted him to die. From the time he was little, his mom had screamed, “I wish you were never born.” He hadn’t been old enough to understand the words but he knew what she meant. Then came the nightmare that was school. He had no idea why he’d been picked on.
Yes, yes I did. The bullies knew he was from the trailer park, and knew no one would complain. It wasn’t just his looks; he knew what the word “fag” meant before sixth grade. When his mom had said he was done with school at twelve, he’d been secretly relieved, until he’d found out what she’d expected him to do instead. That was the first time he’d started wishing he was dead instead of just listening to other people say it.
He moaned, and tried to bite the sound back. If he made a noise the nightmare would come back, and when he just lay quietly, he could pretend the nightmare didn’t exist. He had screamed for so many days at first when no one had heard him, then he had tried to be as desperately still and quiet as he could. He tried not to drink the water but he’d made him. All he’d had to do was touch his fingers, and the pain would have made him do anything. His throat burned; he was so thirsty but he couldn’t swallow. Panic wove an insidious path through his arteries. Some machine beeped faster in time with his heart.
“Hey, hush. You’re safe.”
Oh. Oh. The voice, that voice. He was back, but it wasn’t real—he wasn’t real—this was all something Oliver’s imagination had sent to taunt him, make him believe the quiet words and the gentle touches were really for him, but he knew they couldn’t be. It was the drugs—it must be—conjuring something he could never have. Playing with him. Toying with him. He tried to move his head, but everything seemed so heavy, numb.
Something had touched his cheek. He—it was soft, no not soft, that wasn’t the right word. Almost warm, almost…comforting. Oliver could vaguely hear other voices, felt movement around him, which was confusing, because it had just been him and the nightmare for so long, and he didn’t know where he was. He tried to work it out…who, or what…but he was so tired, so desperately tired…
Something touched him again, and not in anger, not trying to hurt—it was a hand. Not just any hand, his hand—the one who came and talked to him, the voice, the source of comfort. Oliver leaned, ever so slightly. He didn’t have the strength to do more, and the hand held him still, warm, safe. He breathed in a little. Yes, the same clean smell.
“You going to open your eyes today, gorgeous?”
Gorgeous? Him? He couldn’t mean him. It was a mistake. Now he knew he had lost his mind. The guys that came this close to him never smelled good, and they were definitely never gentle.
Oliver’s heart started beating faster, and he could hear some machine with its annoying beeping getting louder. He couldn’t open his eyes. If he opened them everything would become real, and he couldn’t cope with any more reality. Not yet, maybe not ever. Mind numbing terror met him whenever he opened his eyes.
“I know you’re awake. It’s like being fastened to a lie detector.” The amused voice carried on. “Would you like some water?” Oliver opened cracked lips painfully to refuse, he didn’t trust the water, but felt something cold and wet touch them, and it robbed him of sound. It was ice, and cool trickles dropped onto his parched tongue. “Those lips look sore.”
Oliver was confused with the voice, tried not to trust the soothing words. Then his heart slammed in his ribs as he felt the cold swipe of something brush his lips. Slow, confident, but infinitely gentle. It was almost…almost caring. Which was completely ridiculous. No one cared about Oliver. No one had cared about Oliver in a really long time, which was fine, because Oliver didn’t really care about Oliver any more.
“Ice is good, but water would be better.”
Oliver held his breath a little at the sound of the voice. He wanted to believe it was real, that it belonged to someone who cared.
Could he? Dare he? Oliver parted dry lips again and closed them over a straw. He sipped slowly, a tiny mouthful. The taste was different, better, fresh.
He was glad he didn’t seem to need an answer, but the hand had been taken away to get the water. The water was wonderful, but he wanted, needed, the touch more. The hand moved back and the beeping slowed. Just a gentle tick. He heard a soft click and then a thumb gently smoothed something cooling over his dry lips.
“There. You tell me if anything else hurts.”
Oliver didn’t have the strength to reply, and wasn’t sure he could get his voice to work anyhow. He could feel his mind slipping away again, but he didn’t care. He moved his face a fraction, and settled deeper into the touch. Warmth seeped into him, and he heard a soft chuckle. He could have smiled almost as the warmth from the sound wrapped him up.
Whatever this was, whoever he was, if he could just hold on to the thought that someone cared for a little while longer before it was taken away…
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