How To Be dead


Here’s my contribution, written for sweetestdrain, featuring dead!Vic and, um, food. That was sort of her request.

1. don’t let them see you

Brian hasn’t been sleeping. He’s like a coked out college student, prowling the loft, cat-like, drinking coffee and kicking the walls. Vic’s been spending most of his time at the loft. Vic doesn’t sleep anymore, can’t sleep, literally, and the nights get long and hollow just watching others do what he can’t. Brian is entertainment, at least, while everyone else is in bed. That’s what he tells himself, and doesn’t feel bad that Brian’s insomnia helps him pass the time. He’s dead. He doesn’t have to feel guilty.

It’s an attitude he thinks Brian would approve of.

Brian hasn’t slept since Justin left.

(Not left, not moved out, although he took too many boxes for Vic to feel like everything was okay. He’d watched them talk it out, watched Justin talk about a space of his own, somewhere for his art, not wanting to get under Brian’s feet. Brian had sat in characteristic silence, reading the newspaper, nodding. If Vic could have picked anything up, he would have, and he’d have thrown at Brian’s head and screamed.)

He was sleeping when Justin left, though, and Vic wonders if there’s a connection. He’d already moved most of his boxes, so Justin didn’t make any noise getting the rest of his shit and clearing out. He sat on the edge of the bed for a moment, watching Brian sleep the way people do when they love each other, and then he didn’t kiss him and didn’t stay. He left, and closed the door silently, and Vic didn’t stick around to watch Brian wake up. He didn’t want to see that.

He didn’t want to see Justin, either, unpacking his art supplies into that dead space on the other side of town, where he wasn’t supposed to be sleeping, so why was there a bed? So Vic went to Ted’s, and watched him talk to his plants. That’s what he does when things get bad. Ted makes him feel that being dead isn’t all that bad. Things could be worse.

Brian doesn’t sleep. Vic watches him trace circles around the rim of his coffee mug at 4am, and smoke cigarettes leaning on the kitchen counter, eyes trained on nothing. He works endlessly, without inspiration, and every campaign is soulessly perfect. He drinks but doesn’t get drunk. He has become a flat surface, absorbing no light, everything sliding over him. He’s busy. Justin’s busy. You don’t have time to be busy, Vic wants to tell them. You’ll never get enough time together.

People are beautiful, though, when they think no one can see them. Vic can’t tear his eyes away. Brian is caving in on himself, days without sleep, without Justin coming home, raw eyes and pale, damp skin. His hair falls across his face and he moves slowly, tapping his cigarette or stretching out his arms to unknot the muscles with listless elegance. He doesn’t change his shirt and his tie hangs loose around the collar. The phone doesn’t ring enough and Justin is gone for days at a time, so Vic goes to other apartments, Michael’s, Debbie’s. He puts his hands on their shoulders, and he says, call him, go see him, jesus, don’t you see what’s happening?

In response, he gets blankness and hands passing through his body.

Debbie keeps trying to make Vic’s Chicken Vessuvio, but she never uses enough cannellini beans, and she always forgets the red pepper flakes. That’s not all. Sometimes Vic stands behind her while she’s frying up the onions and the garlic, and the garlic is just this side of burned, the way it should be – and he’s saying, that’s right, now the wine, Sis. Sis. Now the wine. No, not the tomatoes, not yet, the wine, Deb –

She forgets the wine, or uses red when it should be white, and then sits frowning because it doesn’t taste right. Of course it doesn’t taste right.

The thing about being dead, it’s like watching a horror movie. You’re looking at the blonde girl on the screen and watching the guy in the mask creep up behind her, and you’re screaming no no no, turn around, look behind you, run. But she can’t hear you. She keeps on smiling prettily until the axe comes down on her skull.

Vic knows more than anyone else, he sees the whole picture, the whole goddam movie, but he can’t step in and help them out. It’s against the rules. There’s a screen between them, a sheet of glass. Those two worlds can’t come together.

2. don’t interfere

He remembers Brian as a kid, fifteen, sixteen. He’d sit in the kitchen with Debbie and she’d say Brian fucking Kinney, no good, a bad influence, I want him out. She’d be cutting the crusts off his sandwiches as she said it, and when he came in, she’d kiss him and ruffle his hair. Vic didn’t really know Brian then. He just knew the way Brian had looked at him sharply when Michael had introduced him as the gay uncle.

‘So you’re from New York?’ he’d said, asking a completely different question with his furious eyes. People thought Rage was a good name for Brian when he was thirty; they should have seen him when he was sixteen.

‘That’s right.’

‘What’s it like?’

‘It’s a tough city, but it’s good. It’s worth it.’

‘I want to live there someday.’

‘I bet you do.’

Trying to look after two sixteen year olds the way Debbie did is an experience not unlike being dead, Vic imagines. No one hears a damn word you say. No one wants your advice.

‘Just don’t interfere,’ Vic had told her, without a clue himself. ‘Let them learn things the hard way.’

Easy to say. The kids grew up, and they all built themselves a little family, and Brian is part of it, and he belongs to them. He belongs to Vic, and Vic doesn’t want Brian to learn anything the hard way anymore. There’s been too much of the hard way. Enough.

Vic was the first adult Brian told he was gay. Only the second person, as far as he knows, after Michael. He told him as if he expected Vic to argue, like he was setting himself up for a fight. ‘I’m gay.’ It was a challenge.

‘I know you are,’ said Vic, and Brian deflated, looked so relieved he might cry.

Brian isn’t crying now. He’s sitting on the floor rolling a joint, still in his work clothes. The kettle is hissing, but it’s too late. Brian’s already got a bottle of Bourbon at his side. Vic is on the couch, although it doesn’t sink beneath his weight. He’s just there, watching. It’s early evening but dark outside already. It’s December. The somethingth of December. He doesn’t keep track of dates; no one’s expecting a birthday card.

He’s been dead more than a year. He doesn’t know where the time’s gone.

If you call him, says Vic, he’ll answer.

His words don’t even dent the air.

3. accept

Vic had always found it easier to be a pessimist, but even he had started to believe that this thing with Brian and Justin was going to work. A too-long chain of traumas had pushed them together, but something better than that had kept them together. He sure as hell didn’t know what it was, he wasn’t a mind reader, he just watched, but something. Something had been working.

Vic didn’t follow Justin to LA, although he supposes he could have. But he knows what happened, and what he doesn’t know, he imagines. The movie was a success. It was nothing Justin wanted it to be. He came back too quiet, and Vic wondered how many times his childhood had to end. Vic knows jaded when he sees it; it’s like looking in the mirror.

Brian’s mother died while Justin was in LA, and Brian didn’t tell him. ‘Haven’t those boys got anywhere?’ Debbie would say to no one as she served up dinner. Brian closed himself in again, trying to protect everyone and doing the opposite.

When Justin got back, Vic hovered between them, waiting for the happy reunion, and got a heavy, splintering silence instead. He heard Justin talking on the phone to someone, maybe Daphne, saying he was tired of silence, tired of not being helped and not being allowed to help.

After everything, Vic kept thinking. How could they end up back here? Life was wasted on the living; they just kept fucking up out of habit.

Justin took the money from the movie he hated and bought a studio across town. He needed to work on his own, he said. He needed to control things. Sometimes, Vic has noticed, people circle away from each other when they need each other most.

Brian’s mother’s death did something strange to him. Vic, for weeks the only one who knew, had stayed with him in all the days after, a hand that Brian couldn’t feel resting on his shoulder. He’d watched something wrap itself around Brian. It wasn’t grief, not the way Vic knew it. It was more like a sudden hopelessness, a loss of faith in second chances. It occurred to Vic that Brian had quietly believed his mother would come round, there was still hope. Maybe that was Justin’s fault. Maybe Justin had made him believe he was worth loving.

Justin had called him from a bathroom at a Hollywood party, five minutes after Claire, suicidal and drunk, and Vic had listened to Brian’s side of the conversation, a series of ‘yeahs’, and ‘I’m fines,’ an overwhelming lack of communication. If he’d learned how to accept comfort, he sure as fuck hadn’t learned how to ask for it. So far to go, Vic thought for the hundredth time since he’d unofficially moved in with Brian, and wondered how many ways he’d failed him.

He’d been pretty damn young himself when he met Brian, or he’d felt like he was, and he’d liked to imagine himself as the role model, the cool gay uncle to Debbie’s nagging mother. Brian and Michael; he would help them out, show them the ropes, homosexuality 101, teach them and be their friend. He’d liked the idea, but what had he done, really? He’d hardly been there until he’d got sick, and that was never what he wanted to show them. Since he’s been dead he’s had a thousand opportunities to think of the things he could have done and the moments he could have intervened. Every day is like lying in bed at night remembering all the important things you forgot to do, and now it’s all too late.

He was going to be the cool gay uncle. He had imagined them calling him for advice, running away to stay with him. Fifteen year old Michael and Brian were two kids crying out for male role models, and Vic had cast himself in the role immediately. But what had he done? He hadn’t done enough. Not for Brian. Not for anyone.

Brian’s in his thirties, Vic reminds himself, it’s too late for role models, except. He watches him roam the loft. Both of his fucking parents –

- he remembers long late night conversations with Debbie, when the Kinneys had simply become his fucking parents, no other name, just Brian’s fucking parents -

both of them gone and no resolution, no healing, no scab. Brian was an open wound where Jack and Joan were concerned. He went to the funeral on his own, while Vic stood in Debbie’s kitchen saying, Sis, go to the Church, go to the Church right now and stand next to him.

Debbie shivered when she passed through him, but she kept on making pasta without enough olive oil, oblivious.

Joan’s heart stopped beating in aisle 9 of the supermarket, and a wall came down around Brian. Justin, having his youth smashed up all over again in Hollywood, was too late to slide under it. He came running, after Michael finally found out and called him, but he was too late. He slammed right into it, and bounced back into a closed-off space of his own.

For a while, Vic wondered if Joan would turn up sometime, if they could haunt the loft together exchanging death stories. She never did. If she was watching over anyone, it wasn’t Brian. Probably she was up there in heaven, talking to God. He hoped God was saying, nice try, Joan, but you got it all wrong. That’s not what I meant at all.

4. don’t cross the line

Vic has a lot of time to notice things, and this is what he sees: there are too many spaces in Brian’s life. Dead parents, absent boyfriend, the loft has always been more space than anything. Even though Brian doesn’t see him, Vic doesn’t like to leave him alone. He likes to think he’s doing some good just being there, leaning in the corner and watching him, filling up some of the space.

Does he even take up space, or is he just dead air, another hole in the world where the real Vic should be?

Who the fuck knows. He never was a philosopher. He should ask Ben; Ben always liked to think about that shit. Maybe Ben can even see him. He’s closer to that line than anyone else.

Sometimes Vic feels like people are looking at him. In public places, mostly. Sometimes he hangs out at bars and someone will twist around in their stool and look back, and they’re looking right at him, they are –

But the distance is always off. The direction is right, but the distance is wrong, and their eyes pass through him to the wall.

Until the day Brian stop typing at his desk, looks up from the computer, his face blue in the glare from the screen. And he looks at Vic, meets his eye, and Vic is frozen in place, utterly paralyzed. It’s been a long time.

And Brian sighs, closes his eyes briefly, and says, ‘What are you doing?’

What is he doing? It’s a damn good question, and briefly, Vic has no answer. He isn’t sent from God, he doesn’t bring a message, he’s not an angel. Why is he here, not earth-here, there’s no answer to that one – but why is he here, in the loft, watching Brian work, waiting for Brian to do something. You love him, a voice whispers, he’s yours, and it’s true, but that’s not it, that’s not the answer right now.

‘I’m watching you fuck up your life,’ says Vic.

Brian puts his elbows on the desk and presses his palms against his eyes. ‘Oh,’ he says. ‘Right.’

5. stop caring

He’s not a ghost, he’s just dead, he’s just a person who’s not alive. He’s a not alive-person who’s still around. And why wouldn’t he be? When people die, they don’t disappear. They’re not gone. They’re just not alive. They don’t pop out of existence, snap, goodbye – how could they? People don’t exist within the confines of their bones, all of human experience isn’t a matter of blood and skin and nerve endings. It’s an external experience, a reaching out and overlapping of lives. The tree falling in the forest does not make a sound if there’s no one to hear it. The dead guy down the street does not disappear if someone remembers him. People exist outside of themselves, in the things they make and the people they know. If Debbie stopped trying to make Chicken Vessuvio, he wouldn’t be in her kitchen anymore. Slice Vic out of Brian’s memory and he’d be gone, he wouldn’t sit in the corner of the loft and watch. But he’s still here. The people who loved him keep him around.

Or that’s how he chooses to see it, anyway, and he tells Brian in an authoritative voice.

‘I’m still here because you still need me,’ he intones, liking the morbid inflection he manages. He doesn’t feel Brian’s in a position to challenge him. For all Brian knows, he is a fucking angel. He has been hanging out with God. He does know The Answers.

‘Oh yeah?’ says Brian, who never had a lot of respect for the dead. His voice is muffled by the pillow he has clamped over his head. ‘You sure it’s not the other way around? Maybe you just couldn’t say goodbye to us.’

Yes, Vic thinks, because I wasn’t ready, and he tries to suppress the thought immediately, but fails. He wasn’t done. He had more.

The world should have stopped when he died, but it carried on. Debbie kept going to Pflag meetings on Tuesdays, Brian and Justin kept moving from drama to drama, Ben kept lecturing, Michael kept working at the store. Rodney finished unpacking the boxes. It was like they’d all gone to a party and forgotten to invite him.

Or maybe he had been ready, and he’d just been ready too long, so it came as a surprise.

It came as a big fucking surprise.

‘Listen to me, Brian.’

‘No.’ Brian sticks his head out from under the pillow and glares at Vic from behind un-Brian like tousled hair. ‘I don’t have to listen to anyone, least of all you.’

Déjà vu all over again, and Vic is back in Debbie’s bright kitchen, seventeen year old Brian with a hangover, refusing to take a lesson in basic sex ed from the not-so-cool gay uncle. Seventeen was probably four years too late anyway.

He shakes his head to clear the memory. ‘Listen,’ he says, and then ‘kid,’ because he feels it’s appropriate, although Brian’s expression suggests otherwise. He suddenly wants to laugh, and he doesn’t know why.

For a moment, Brian looks like he will listen, so Vic struggles for advice, something better than pull yourself together, sort yourself out, call your fucking boyfriend or your best friend, or someone. You’ll be dead before you know it.

‘Do you remember my tomato focaccia bread?’


Vic sighs, lets the memory suck him back. ‘Olive oil. Cherry tomatoes. Fresh basil. Served warm.’

‘Is this a metaphor?’

‘No. I just wondered if you remembered.’

Brian drops his head back on the pillow, looking at the ceiling, and lets out a long breath. Vic is at the end of the bed, sheets he can’t feel twisted beneath his hands.

‘I remember,’ says Brian, after a while, quiet. ‘Michael’s whole house used to smell like bread.’

Michael’s house. It hadn’t been Michael’s house in years, but Vic remembers Brian clutching the phone to his ear in the kitchen with his eyes shut saying ‘No, Mom, I’m staying at Michael’s house tonight, I— no, Mom, I’m allowed, it’s—’

‘I’m sorry about your mother,’ says Vic, not really sure how he means it.

‘Like I give a shit,’ says Brian, but Vic can tell his heart’s not really in it. Brian sighs heavily and throws the pillow across the floor. He rolls onto his back and looks at the ceiling. ‘I’m sorry you died,’ he says. ‘Michael misses you.’

Vic can’t think about that. ‘Where’s Justin?’

‘I’m sure you already know.’

He doesn’t know for sure. He’s not omniscient. He sort of thinks he should be. There aren’t as many perks to death as he’d hoped.

‘He’s painting the walls black and calling it art,’ says Vic, and Brian lifts his head and looks at him sceptically. ‘And you should call him and tell him you’re sorry for shutting him out, and you’re sorry that made him shut you out, and you’re sorry that you’re both fucking idiots, and get him to come over here so you can – do whatever you kids do.’

‘It’s not origami,’ Brian smirks, and then looks annoyed. ‘If you think I’m going to do whatever you tell me just because you’re dead, you’re shit out of luck, Victor.’ He drops his head back on the bed.

‘You owe it to me—’

‘I don’t owe you shit.’

‘Don’t you think—’

‘You died, Vic, you son of a bitch, you died on us.’

‘Do you want me to apologize?’

‘Yes! Fuck, yes, I want you to apologize.’

‘I’m sorry, Brian.’

Brian let out a long breath, and shut his eyes. ‘Yeah. Well. Just, don’t do it again.’

Vic looks at him seriously, and promises.

6. don’t miss anything

A whole life, a whole death, and this is what Vic knows: Brian and Justin need to be together.

He knows this, because he knows Brian. And Brian has gone too far, fallen a thousand miles from where he was before Justin arrived. It’s too late, and he’ll never climb back, and if he falls all that way and still doesn’t get to end up with Justin, then-

Then Vic doesn’t want to think about it. Brian and Justin need to be together. Justin knew that straight away. It took everyone else a while to realize, but now Vic doesn’t think even Michael would argue. Brian. Justin. It was necessary. It was the kind of love story he was looking for when he was them, and he never found it.

He imagines the sex is hot, too. (Not imagines. He doesn’t sit around imagining it. He doesn’t hang around and watch, either, despite what Brian seems to think. He’d rather watch Ted talk to plants. He just supposes.)

Vic is on the couch. Not sitting on the couch. Specific verbs don’t really apply anymore. He just is.

Brian is getting stoned.

Brian takes a drag of his joint and holds it out to Vic between pinched fingers, smirking.

Vic looks at it. ‘Is that supposed to be funny?’

He can’t smoke, but he can remember it. The inhale, hold it in your mouth for a moment and then breathe it in, slow, so you don’t choke – more like absorbing it straight into your bloodstream. And then, wait a minute, and there it is; a wave up through your body from your toes and into your head, untying all the knots and sending you spiralling upwards with the exhale. Everything slipping into soft focus and your thoughts wandering hopelessly with no hope of backtracking, and as soon as someone said ‘what did I just say?’, it was hilarious and you laughed until you thought you’d pass out.

He remembers getting high, although it’s been a while, even before he died. He remembers it, and craves it.

Not like he craves food. Not like he craves Chicken Scarpariello and Baked Ziti and Crème Brulee and Fried Calamari. And it’s not a physical craving. He’s not connected to the world like that anymore. It’s just the loss. The memory of what he had.

‘When you’re dead,’ says Vic, and ignores the way Brian sighs heavily. ‘You’ll miss him.’ That doesn’t really make sense, he thinks. He just wants everyone to stop wasting time.

‘Not if I’m anything like you,’ says Brian. ‘I’ll just haunt him until we hate each other.’

‘You won’t be able to touch him.’

‘I don’t need to touch him,’ he says, and Vic knows from looking at him that he may as well say he doesn’t need air.

‘All he wants is for you to talk to him. Tell him something. You can’t keep making him do all the work. He’s just tired.’

‘Everyone’s tired.’

‘So be tired together. Get him the hell out of that dingy fuckhole he calls a studio. He’s just waiting for you to talk to him.’

Brian breathes smoke and his eyes follow it up to the ceiling. He looks bored, the way he used to look whenever Debbie tried to talk to him seriously.

‘For Christ’s sake, Brian.’ Vic would slam his hands against the glass-topped table, if he didn’t know they’d pass right through it. ‘You know it’s not over. You know it’s never going to be over. You’ve gone too far already.’

Brian doesn’t say anything. He crushes the joint out against the side of the ashtray, still pretending not to listen.

‘You’ve gone too far and you’re stuck with each other, so why don’t you stop acting like a pair of children and save everyone a lot of hassle, and just stop. Stop doing this to each other. Stop playing games. Stop finding reasons not to be together, and just be together.’

Brian gets to his feet, and snatches the ashtray up, scattering ash everywhere. ‘He could be here if he wanted to be,’ he says. ‘He obviously has somewhere better to be.’

Brian stalks towards the kitchen and Vic opens his mouth, not knowing what he’s going to say. ‘Most people’s parents love them unconditionally,’ he says, and Brian freezes. He stands still for a long time, and then turns slowly and looks at Vic.

‘What the fuck is that supposed to mean?’

‘Most parents love their kids unconditionally, and that’s great,’ says Vic, ‘and kids get two people who love them unconditionally, and they’re lucky, and they deserve it, and it’s great.’

Brian glances at the door, as if he’s wondering whether he can throw Vic out.

‘And you didn’t get that—’

‘Thanks a lot.’

‘—and that sucks, and I’m sorry for you, but you know what, Brian? Parents love their kids because they have to, it’s just biology. But you know what you did? You went out and made people love you unconditionally, and not even because they have to. Just because of who you are. And you didn’t even do it by being nice. You’re a fucking asshole, Brian, you’re a cunt, and I can still think of four people – four goddamn people – who love you anyway, and will love you no matter what you do. Unconditionally. Do you have any idea what that means? How amazing that is? No one else can make people love them like you do, Brian. You’re a fucked up son of a bitch, and people adore you. You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself and start giving something back.’

A pause stretches into silence, and then Brian looks at his feet. ‘All you fucking dead guys have to have a monologue, don’t you?’ he says, and Vic laughs, because Brian is an asshole, and Vic loves him unconditionally.

7. step aside

It snows, and for a while, the snow is clean and white. Brian walks to work and Vic finds himself walking with him, and there’s a low winter sun and everything is bright.

When there’s no one around, Brian turns and squints at him. ‘I can hardly see you,’ he says.

Vic knows. In the light, he feels stretched thin and transparent. He could disappear into the snow and it wouldn’t matter. He’s not supposed to be here, anyway.

‘I can hardly see you either,’ says Vic, and it’s true. The sun is rising behind him, and Brian is just a black shadow against it.

Brian called Justin the night before. Vic hadn’t listened, not really, because Brian hadn’t known he was there. But he’d seen him bent over the desk cradling the phone like a secret, talking softly and laughing.

If for no other reason, Vic loves Justin because he makes Brian laugh.

8. remember the good things

Michael was sick the day Vic was supposed to take them to buy their graduation stuff, but while Debbie ran up and down the stairs with bowls of soup, she waved a hand at Brian who was sitting inconveniently on the bottom step writing a paper and said ‘Vic, will you do something with this one before I pour hot soup all over him?’

Vic didn’t know what to do with him, so they went to Julio’s apartment, Vic’s then-boyfriend, and Julio taught Brian how to roll the perfect joint. Vic made gnocchi in Julio’s excuse for a kitchen, and they ate it on its own from a bowl in the center of the table, getting high, and talking about how Brian should get revenge on the guy who beat up Michael the week before.

‘Tell Debbie I took you to a museum,’ Vic said, glancing at Brian through the smoke, and Brian snorted a laugh.

‘Don’t worry about it,’ he said. His eyes were glazed and bloodshot, but he still looked like he had his shit together, which was more than Vic could say. ‘We have an understanding, right?’

‘Right,’ said Vic, and laughed. ‘Right.’

9. say goodbye

He notices that they’ve almost stopped talking, and that Brian has started sleeping, and one night, he finds Justin sleeping as well. Watching them sleep is too invasive, so he slips out, but remembers the image of them spooned together, faces smoothed out in sleep, the rightness of it.

Vic misses sleep. He’s been wrapped in a quiet, ragged tiredness since forever, since he got here.

He finds him again in the morning, as Brian is pouring milk into coffee. ‘Justin was here last night.’ Brian’s voice is quiet, but calm. The taut, hard patterns of his words have softened. Because he slept.

‘I know,’ says Vic.

‘No shit.’ A teaspoon clinks against the side of the mug as Brian stirs his coffee and stares into it like he’ll find the answers. ‘We didn’t talk.’

‘That’s alright,’ says Vic. ‘You talk a lot of shit most of the time.’

Brian looks up at him, his expression unreadable. ‘I miss you,’ he says suddenly.

A wave of grief hits Vic like cold water, but then it’s gone. ‘I miss you too,’ he says.

10. leave

He’s thinking, what else, what else? What else can he tell him, what has he forgotten to do?

I need you to tell Debbie something about her cooking, he says. It’s evening and the loft is dark and quiet, only a desk light giving out a soft glow. Brian looks like he’s getting ready to go out.

‘Vic?’ Brian looks around slowly as he shoulders into his coat.

Yeah, says Vic, but Brian doesn’t look at him.

Brian stops moving. He looks at Vic but his eyes go through him. ‘Vic?’ he says again, very quietly. ‘Are you—’

A knock comes from the other side of the door, and they both look at it. Then Justin’s voice, muffled. ‘Brian?’

A moment of thick silence, and then Brian speaks again, but his voice sounds different. ‘Justin.’

Well, thinks Vic. We could stand around and say each other’s names all day, but it won’t save any of us.

Brian frowns and goes to the door. He stops again before he opens it, and his eyes flick across the room. Vic looks at him, and for a second, he’s surprised that Brian isn’t sixteen anymore. When did that happen, anyway? The light falls sideways on Brian’s face, and he’s frowning slightly, biting his lip. He’s breathtaking, Vic thinks, and wonders when that happened, as well.

Vic always wanted to teach him everything he knew, but now he’s not sure he ever knew shit. The only thing that matters when you’re dead is no regrets, and everything Vic knows about that, he learned from Brian.

Brian, he says, and can’t think of anything to tell him. But Brian has turned and slid the door open, and Justin steps inside.

‘Were you talking to someone?’ says Justin, and Brian shakes his head.

‘Talking to myself,’ he says. ‘Going crazy.’

‘Old age’ll do that to you,’ Justin smirks, and Brian mutters something Vic can’t hear and kisses him. Then they grin at each other like two kids who’ve blown up the school and haven’t been caught. When they look at each other like that, there’s no room for anyone else.

Vic laughs, but they don’t hear him.

That’s the thing about being dead. You’re looking at him, loving him, you’re reaching out for him, but he’s gone. He isn’t yours. You can’t save him. You can only hope for him, and then you’ve got to leave. Get the fuck out and walk away, find somewhere else, or maybe just go. Maybe you’re through here. Step outside and walk away down the darkening street, no breath in front of your face, no footprints in the snow.