Welcome to the Thursday Thousand! Every week, on Thor’s Day, I will be posting a short story (hopefully) written in advance. The only parameter is that it be, at minimum, 1000 words long. It can be any genre, any length beyond that, and even contain mild cliffhangers!
Why? Because some of these will turn into novels, let’s be honest here. Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments!
Note: I meant to write about Mercury this week. I even titled a file after him and had it open, but when I started writing, Oliver came out. He is a character in one of my novels that I’ve been writing for a few years now, that needs a lot of revision, and that I’ve been avoiding for a while, but Oliver is always with me, and he’s been a little bit louder lately. So this is more of a character sketch than an actual story.
And, again, music rec! This is not usually Olly’s song, so it was interesting that this was what I turned to, but it actually fits the Oliver that’s in my head (and in this story) a lot more than the Oliver I’m going to end up starting with.
tw: suicidal thoughts
Sometimes, Oliver remembered.
Sometimes, when the noise in his head was too loud, when the noise around him was too soft to drown out the madness inside, Oliver quietly got up and started walking. He never walked far because his destination was always the same. Out of the room he shared with three other boys, boys he’d never intended to befriend, boys he’d avoided and shunned and tried to walk away from, but boys that had hung onto him nonetheless, that had seen something worth saving in him, that had pulled him back from the edge so many times that it was finally starting to feel familiar, this boisterous warmth they all threw at him.
Jasper, who had thunked down next to Oliver that very first day, their shoulders rocketing together like Oliver had some kind of gravitational pull. He’d never been that person before, the one that drew others in, had always instead skirted around the edges of other gravitational pulls, had always been afraid to get too close, had always listened to the loud thoughts inside. But Jasper was nothing if not the loudest of them all, and the way he’d looked at Oliver that first day, like he was seeing him, truly and wholly—it was a look that made it hard to breathe.
Jasper, who set stalks of lavender on Oliver’s pillow in the middle of the night so he would sleep better.
Harrison, who was, at the very heart of it, the center of their gravity, with his brightly colored, patterned clothes and his wide smile that sometimes made Oliver’s head hurt with its optimism. He was the kind of loud that Oliver usually avoided, big and demanding and all-consuming. Harrison was not a person to just be friends with. You were either a random acquaintance or a blood brother. Harrison did everything fully and with all of his self.
Harrison, who occasionally dropped Oliver small, uncertain smiles, who let his strong façade crack so Oliver could see underneath, who always made sure Oliver was okay.
And James, who Oliver had known, from the very first scowl, that he would be hopeless around. There was no falling for James. It was simply life before and life after. He had sharp edges and a cutting tongue, frown lines and angry shoulders, but when Oliver first stepped into their room, there was something soft about him that James tried to hide and that Oliver saw immediately. They were kindred pieces of jagged glass, Oliver and James, two dark souls set adrift, kept in orbit by Harrison’s sun smiles and Jasper’s wide laughs.
James, who always opened his eyes when Oliver slid out of bed, who dragged Oliver to a stop and held his gaze for just long enough to be sure he didn’t need to follow.
Sometimes, Oliver just stood there, his edges coming undone and his hands shaking, and James would slide out of bed, wrap their fingers together, and pull him out of the room. But this morning, like most mornings, Oliver just tipped his head in a quick nod and left. He quietly slid on his shoes, grabbed his windbreaker, and slipped out of their shared room. He went through the winding maze of their dorm hall, crept through the dew soft grass of mid-spring, and passed the main building where most of their classes were held.
Beyond that, a long stretch of green led to a sloping drive that disappeared down into the city proper. The school was bracketed by steep cliffs, and it was these that Oliver made for. They weren’t far from the main building, and the walk wasn’t unfamiliar. Oliver made it often enough that even Harrison had stopped worrying.
When he’d first come here, they hadn’t known yet, those boys. All they’d known was that Oliver was their new roommate, and because Harrison was Harrison, they made him feel welcome. Oliver was sitting at the cliffs when they found him on that first day. Jasper collapsed down next to him, knocking their shoulders together like they were at war, and then Harrison was gingerly sitting down on his other side. James stood off to the side, near Harrison, and scowled at the ocean shining in front of them. Harrison had stuck out his hand, and Jasper had eventually stuck out his tongue, but it was James that caught Oliver’s attention, all of that rage rolled into one person. He could sense, right away, that Harrison would be able to read Oliver’s moods and Jasper would recognize when to shift his attention into concern, but James was the same kind of hurt as Oliver, and Oliver had never met another person like him, another person that was done.
Because sometimes, Oliver remembered.
Before that first day, he hadn’t spoken to another person in almost four months. His father didn’t count. He couldn’t avoid speaking to him. But other human beings, other people his age—Oliver had almost forgotten what that was like. When they moved across the country, two broken souls instead of three whole ones, Oliver laughed humorlessly every time he thought of his new school. He didn’t plan on being there long. He didn’t plan on being much longer.
It wasn’t that first day that had done it, either. It was a beginning, yes, but not a kind of beginning that might have changed his mind. No, that came later.
Later, when Oliver was remembering.
He sat down at the cliff’s edge now, tucking his legs beneath him and shrugging a little deeper into his jacket. It was chilly in the morning, even as summer crept closer. The sky was pale, littered here and there with puffy white clouds. The day promised to be bright and warm, the kind of day Oliver was now beginning to appreciate. The sky would eventually fade into a fuller blue, and the ocean would sparkle under the sun. For now, it was still rushing softly against the cliffs, still lingering at the edge of slumber even though the moon had set.
Oliver sighed, tipping his face up and closing his eyes. The frames of his glasses were cold against his face, and though his fingers would ache a little from the chill, he left them free of his jacket and instead spread them through the grass on either side. Like this, with the still pale sun whispering across his face and the dewy grass tickling his knuckles, Oliver could almost feel her with him.
It wasn’t even the second time—the third, the fourth, or any of those beginning ones—that changed Oliver’s mind about living. He came to the cliffs often in the beginning. Later, Harrison would ask him if he was watching the area, trying to decide when would be the perfect opportunity, and Oliver would laugh at him. These kind of things weren’t planned that meticulously, at least not for Oliver. They just happened. He hadn’t thought about what he was doing ahead of time all those months ago. He’d just walked up the stairs, gone into the bathroom, closed the door, and tried to find the end.
That’s would it would be like now, Oliver knew. He would keep coming to these cliffs, keep looking down at the ocean and ignoring the whisper of the sun, and eventually it would just happen.
When it did, when the moment came, when Oliver was too wrung dry, when his insides were louder than his outsides, when a scream was building in his chest and his hands were shaking and everything felt like too much, Oliver slipped out of their shared room, walked through the winding maze of their dorm hall, and passed through the then brittle winter grass. He didn’t think about it. One of the boys had called him Olly. He didn’t know which one, just that it had come out, oh Olly, before you go, and Oliver felt something hollow open in his chest.
Olly, before you go, an obsidian chip to root you back to the earth and a kiss on the nose, she used to say.
Olly, before you go, lemon tea for energy and an umbrella for hail storms, she used to say.
Olly, before you go, all my love and a thousand hugs, was the last thing she said.
Sometimes, Oliver wondered if he’d gotten a thousand hugs. It seemed a vast number, but his mother was fond of hugs, and so it also seemed such a small number.
A thousand hugs was nothing when you couldn’t have a thousand and one.
Oliver didn’t think about it when he left the room, didn’t think that his behavior might look odd, didn’t think that Harrison had been paying attention, didn’t think that Jasper would look over at their sun in alarm, didn’t think that James would say, “This is it,” before he vaulted off his bed and ran for the door. He didn’t think that he had any gravitational pull, didn’t think that these boys were his friends, didn’t think that they would miss him for one second, not the way he missed her, not in this overwhelming, swallow him whole kind of way.
All he thought was that this was it, and he kept walking, past the school, over the dead grass, toward the cliffs.
Sometimes, he thought about how if he’d just kept walking, if he hadn’t stopped to look at the sky and the ocean, if he hadn’t listened to the wind and closed his eyes one final time, searching, searching, searching until he felt her touch, that would have been it.
But Oliver did pause because his mother had raised him to look at the world around him, to pay attention to its sound, to its magic, and the ocean had always sung to the same beat of his heart.
Sometimes, like now, sitting at the cliffs and looking out at the sea, Oliver remembered the feel of them, Harrison’s hand in the back of his shirt, his fingers brushing against Oliver’s spine as he sought purchase. With one foot already stepping forward, Oliver lost his balance, and then Harrison was everywhere, one arm crushed around Oliver’s chest and the other held tight in James’ grasp as James hauled them backward.
It was James that said, “Holy shit, no,” as he released Harrison and took two neat steps that brought him directly in front of Oliver. He had such dark eyes, Oliver remembered thinking, and a mouth that never did anything but scowl and swear, but in that second, with everything laid bare, Oliver saw something else—fear in his dark eyes, yes, but understanding, too, and it started to piece back the foundation that Oliver was losing. “Please don’t,” James whispered, his usually sharp voice gone soft and jagged at the edges. Harrison still had an arm wrapped around Oliver’s chest. Jasper was mysteriously absent. James was looking at him like Oliver meant something, and it hurt worse than everything else.
“Why not?” Oliver asked.
James opened his mouth, though Oliver wasn’t sure he actually had an answer. Instead, Jasper screamed over to them, “Do you have him? Do I need to get help?”
Harrison’s arm slid away from Oliver, and his warmth stepped back. He made some kind of motion at Jasper behind Oliver’s back, but Oliver’s attention was fixed on James, who just shook his head and whispered, “I don’t know why not. But don’t.”
And that was it. That was the moment. Oliver couldn’t remember if it was the eighth or twentieth time he’d gone to the cliffs, just that he wasn’t alone there for the first time, and he would never be alone there again because these boys were his friends, something he hadn’t intended to happen, but something that had anyway.
He didn’t remember what friends felt like.
But sometimes, he remembered what everything else had felt like.
Oliver looked out at the ocean, and he let himself remember.
Her laugh, the way she used to twirl, her nose kisses and her thousand hugs, the brightness of her smile and the way she’d felt like the center of Oliver’s universe. Without her, he hadn’t known how to go on, but his friends were starting to remind him, and now, when Oliver came to the cliffs, he didn’t think about letting go anymore.
Instead, he waited.
And eventually, the sun got a little warmer, the sky a little bluer, and when he opened his eyes again, she was there with him, her head resting on his shoulder, their hands wrapped together, and the promise of the thousandth and one hug resting between them. “Olly,” she sighed.
Oliver inhaled deeply, feeling the sun swell in his lungs. He never told her that he missed her. He never told her that he wanted her back. He never said anything but, “Hi, mom,” and let her wrap around him, that last hug he was always searching for, that last moment that he didn’t have.
She never stayed long, just enough that he felt peace settling in him, and when she was gone, he either left or James arrived.
Today, as Oliver heard footsteps sliding through the grass, he looked over, and his mother gave him a last smile, touched a finger to his nose, and drifted off between one breath and the next.
James sat down next to him, their knees jostling together, and held out a mug of tea. “Lemon for energy,” he said, and Oliver’s smile was as bright as the sun.