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I'm Trying (Just Like Everyone Else)

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Objectively, Harry knows he's sick. He understands that most people don't weigh themselves every day. He knows most people don't give themselves an “allowance” of 800 calories a day.

But he's not most people. Obviously.

Which is why he's sat on the toilet, having used his first laxatives in hopes of losing a stubborn pound.

Harry can hear his sister pound on the door a few times, asking if he's okay, but he just calls back a quick yes, just some dodgy takeout last night.

 An hour passes like that before he's washing up, grabbing his bag, and heading out the door.

“Where are you headed?” Gemma asks as she swings past him and towards the bathroom.

“Meeting some friends for coffee. I should be back in a bit.” He says.

The walk to the small coffee shop is exactly fifteen minutes. Eight if he walks really fast, but he doesn't like to sweat. His typical walk burns about forty calories each way. He’ll have burned at least eighty by the time he gets back home.

When he walks through the glass doors of the little shop, he's met by John Mayer playing softly and the cheery barista Harry sees every Friday.

“Hey, Harry. The usual black?” The blonde at the counter asks, nudging his glasses up his nose a bit and fiddling around his station. 

“I'm actually going for the small Americano with exactly four tablespoons of almond milk, and two pumps of the sugar-free vanilla. Sorry, I know you hate white lady Starbucks orders,” Harry can't help but redden at his lengthy and specific order, but he trusts Niall isn't too upset.

“No problem, you know you're the one exception I make.” Harry punches in his prepaid drink card, and with a last polite smile, Harry is wandering off to his usual bench against the windows.

He sits for a moment to take in his surroundings but settles on pulling out his phone and scrolling through his unread messages. He has this terrible trouble with responding to his friends, and by the time a few days have passed he knows he'll really never respond.

Suddenly, a small mug is set on the tiny table in front of him, Niall giving him a quick smile before whisking away again.

The two seem to have an understanding between them, in that Niall may love people but he understands that Harry is quiet, not because he has nothing to say but because his thoughts aren’t the kind you share. Harry sees the scars lining Niall's arms and understands that he smiles because it's better than crying. So they get each other. In a weird, we'll-never-talk-about-it sort of way. 

Harry decides to pull out his laptop, opening up his favorite forums and going straight to his accountability thread. He's ready to update after three days and two pounds down. His laxative adventure did help get that last pound off, but he probably won't be doing that ever again. He sips at his drink only after he adds the calories to his food tracking app, pleased to see he's still below 50 for the day. He usually has no problem staying under his 800, but now that he's gotten too weak to trust going to the gym alone, he's replaced his workout with jumping jacks and small weights. His mom is considering buying a treadmill for the family to share, and he's really hoping she's serious this time.

He spends some time like this, clicking away, scanning over forum posts and restriction tips, wondering if he could try a liquid fast over the weekend without alerting his mum or sister. There are only a few others in the shop, most of them coming and going. Harry used to be so paranoid sitting like this, used to be so afraid of everyone looking at him. Now, though, he sees that no one spares more than a glance, and it’s usually at his ripped jeans or the pins scattered on his denim jacket.

For some reason, however, there seems to be a bit of commotion coming from the main entrance to the shop. The bell above the door rings lightly once, twice, three times, and suddenly there's some quiet calling and hurried voices.

“Niall! It’s so good to see you again!” Harry’s ears twitch at the sound of voices moving further towards the seating area and his skin starts to heat up. His anxiety hasn’t caused an issue over coffee in a while, but he couldn’t explain the nerves building when he dared to look at the rather noisy customers.

“Louis, I’ve missed you. Where’ve you been, anyway? Still back home?” Niall was chatting in his normal volume again as he moved through to the lounge area, a boy following him. He had a few books in hand, and Harry spared only tiny glances so he wouldn’t get caught staring.

The boy, Louis, smiled, but only a little, and Harry could see his brown hair pushed back over his eyes. The skin on his wrist was littered with dark and light streaks, and the rips across his jeans pressed tight to his skin when he sat across from Niall.

Harry would usually tell himself, that’s what you don’t want to be anymore, but this boy was pretty, his hands were small and cute, and he radiated anxiety. To say he was intrigued by the mystery boy would be an understatement, but the voice crawling along the back of his mind could only think about how the boy’s thighs spread over his chair, how his stomach had a little pudge, how his arms were so thick.  

“Yeah. I stayed with my family for a bit. My mom found out about the...eating, though. I probably won’t be able to visit for a while this time.” Louis kept his voice quiet, his face turned down as he spoke, but he shuffled his books around and Harry’s ears hated the sound of his chair scraping the floor when he scooted in.

He shook his head and aggressively scrolled through his posts, searching for result threads for liquid fasts, sneaking glances at the boy from his seat. While he tried to look distracted, he listened in on the conversation to the best of his ability.

From what he overheard it was apparent that Louis shared at least some of Harry’s problems. Refusing to eat family dinners got Louis pushed out of his home after an impromptu visit. He didn’t love eavesdropping, but he was too interested to care when the boy started talking about some therapy program his parents were forcing him into.

“It’s some group program, I don’t know. I don’t care that much, I just know I’ll be the only one there starving while still looking like a whale,” The boy laughs, loud and pure, at his own sick joke and Harry might be hooked.

Niall doesn’t laugh, though, and he shifts a little uncomfortably before leaning into Louis’ space and whispering something to him. He stands with a quick hug to the smaller boy, and he flashes Harry a smile as he passes once again. 

Not wanting to stare at Louis anymore, Harry briefly glances at the coffee rings sitting in his empty cup, debating whether or not he could handle more caffeine on a fasting day. 

Harry hadn’t meant to keep thinking about the chubby boy at the coffee shop. He also hadn’t meant to start calling him the “chubby boy”. 

Louis happened to be bigger, but Harry’s repulsion surrounding weight is generally only relating to himself, he’s made friends easily with other overweight people. He thinks it’s because he was overweight in the past, and he understands that there’s no difference between fat and skinny except the looks. 

When he was thinking about Louis, it was about what his hands feel like, what being the thinner one in a hug would feel like, what it would be like to feel someone’s arms wrap all the way around his waist.

He’s decided it’s not quite a crush, but certainly an infatuation. One that he’ll just have to get over, because he likely will never see the soft-spoken boy again.

 

As he’s sitting in his room, contemplating how to go about asking Niall about his little friend, Gemma knocks on his door a few times, opening it immediately after. 

“Mum’s got dinner ready.” She says, staring at him as if he’s got two heads. 

“Okay? I’ll get some in a bit.”

“She wants us to eat together. For once.” She’s stern and final when she says it, not giving him a chance to respond before she’s walking away, leaving the door wide open behind her.

There’s something Gemma’s not saying, but Harry can feel it anyway. They’re catching on to what Harry’s doing. After he lost more than fifty pounds, they started to see his ‘baby fat’ and unhealthy weight melt away - only they had no idea how he was doing it. He spent months insisting that it was just going to the gym at school, eating healthy and all that, but Gemma had caught him chewing and spitting more than once.

He gets a head rush when he stands, an unfortunately common occurrence, but he takes a few deep breaths to steady himself and tries not to shiver in the silence of the house as he makes his way down to the dining room.

Chapter Text

“Harry… we need to talk, honey.”

Those words were not what Harry wanted to hear as he was staring down at a plate loaded with his mum’s lasagna.

“‘Bout what? What’s happened?” Feigning concern for his mum usually diverted her intentions and filled her eyes with guilt just long enough for him to worm his way out of dinner, but clearly, that wouldn’t work this time.

Not tonight.

“I saw your journal.” Gemma says bluntly, staring him down across the table.

Immediately Harry dropped his fork, the metal clattering against his plate and falling to the floor. Ice ran through his veins with every beat of his heart. Harry could hear the blood rushing behind his ears and the air only seems to get heavier with every second he says nothing.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about -” Harry whispers, unable to swallow the lump rising in his throat as he stares blankly ahead.

“Shut up. You’ve been lying to us. For weeks! Are you actually insane?” The shrill sound of Gemma’s voice scraped at his ears and before he could stop himself he was clamping his hands over them, body curling inwards.

“Gemma, calm down.” Harry can’t hear his mum but sees her moving in the corner of his eye. “Please. Please .”

He only uncovers his ears after his mum is seated again and Gemma has gone silent.

No one was ever supposed to see his journal. He kept a daily log of calorie intakes and morning weigh-ins there, kept his deepest thoughts of self-loathing there as motivation to keep losing. It was his personal, private space.

Those blank pages were his safety. And it’s just been ripped away.

Harry is so preoccupied with trying to figure out where he went wrong, how Gemma could possibly have seen when he was so careful , when his mum starts speaking again.

“Please just listen to me, Harry. I love you.” She starts, tears wetting her cheeks before she can stop them. “I can’t lose my baby. I can’t. I need you to be honest with me. How long have you been… starving yourself like this?”

He thinks for a moment, before deciding to give her the truth she asked for.

“Six months. Like this, at least.”

The room is quiet. Gemma sighs, before walking into the kitchen. Clinking and the sound of the fridge door swinging is heard, but she doesn’t return until Anne starts up again.

“Why?” Her voice is so quiet, Harry struggled to hear it.

“I just… couldn’t stay how I was. I was too big. You know I was. This was the easiest option.”

He doesn’t think that's what his mum wanted to hear.

Gemma comes stomping in, her eyes rolling almost to the back of her head in annoyance and a full-to-the-brim wine glass in hand.

“What a fucking joke. You’re so selfish, Harry; so unbelievably selfish.” Anger colored her cheeks a dark pink and Harry couldn’t think of a time in his entire life that he’d ever seen her so mad.

Anne doesn’t say anything, and he thinks that says more than her words could.

“...What do you want me to say?” Harry chokes out. His throat is tight, painfully so, and he can’t look away from the spot on the center of the table. His body feels cold and numb, and he starts to feel a familiar pressure in the center of his skull.

Not now .

“Say you’ll get some fucking sense and see a doctor.”

His eyes twitch and look up at her, shocked. He can’t - he can’t do that, they’ll just shove calories down his throat and wreck all his hard work!

It’s too late for Harry to notice how the wall behind Gemma starts to blur, he’s standing on his feet for only a moment as he tries to push his chair back, but when he takes a step to the side, black and white spots consume his vision.

He hears his mom shout and there are hands tugging at his body before ringing drowns it all out. He hears the ringing for what he assumes is several minutes, continuous but fading in and out. He sees nothing but black, and he can’t move. Then, there’s nothing.

When he comes to, he feels where his wrist and knees first hit the hardwood floor, pain shooting through his bones when he rolls onto his side. He doesn’t hear anything for a moment, but slowly the sound of his sister shouting his name fades in.

His mother is speaking somewhere in the background, but Gemma is shouting his name, and a hand is cradling his head.

“Harry! Harry, can you hear me? Harry!” Something wet hits his cheek, and when he wiggles his hands a bit, he finds he can reach up to wipe at his face.

Opening his eyes next hurts a bit, lights flooding his vision before he squints up at Gemma.

Tears are pouring down her face, and she’s still screaming. Harry’s dizzy, and when he tries to sit up, his back pops in a few places and the room spins a bit more.

“I’m fine,” He croaks out, “I’m fine. Just need some water.”

Anne is there, phone pressed between her shoulder and ear, with a bottle of water.

She presses his hair back, feels his forehead, and wipes her own tears as she continues talking over the phone.

He can barely make out words about ‘passed out’, ‘eating disorder’, ‘won’t eat’.

She’s calling an ambulance.

She’s sending him to a hospital.

“No - no, stop it. I’m fine. Stop! Hang up!” Anne walks further from him as he screams, voice rough and breaking.

“Mum! Please!” He tries, sight blurred as tears of his own build.

Gemma is there as he sits up fully, arm tight around his shoulders to keep him from standing. She’s still holding the back of his head, feeling as though trying to find a bump. Maybe he’d hit his head on the way down, he couldn’t tell. His whole head hurt, his whole body really.

But he had to stop her. He couldn’t go to the hospital, not yet. He’d talked to his friend who just got out of inpatient and she was forced to gain twenty fucking pounds . He can’t gain it back, he can’t.

His mum keeps talking, thanking someone before holding the phone away to cover a sob.

“He’s not going willingly. He won’t.” She says, and Harry feels a burning anger he’s never felt before.

“You can’t make me do that! You can’t force me to go anywhere, I’m not getting fat again!” He bellows, rushing to stand before Gemma can pin him down again. He grips the back of the chair he’d been sitting in for balance as his vision gets dangerously spotty in a head rush.

“If that’s what it takes to keep you alive, I will!” His mum lets out a horrific sob, something he could never have imagined.

Harry doesn’t know what to say next. The room is silent apart from sobs, both from his mum and Gemma still sat on the floor. The glass of wine she’d had is now shattered on the floor, wine staining the wood beneath it. His plate sits untouched, and his water is spilled on the table now.

Anne lifts the phone to her ear again, trying to muffle her sobs into her wrist.

“Yes, I’m sorry. He’s alert and standing, now, yes.”

Harry’s jaw is clenched tight, and he can’t tell if it’s the anger, the nausea, or the shakes racking his body.

He hears Gemma standing behind him, her sniffling and shuffling as she walks around the table to start cleaning the glass pieces from the floor.

His mum is giving their address over the phone again, reaffirming the fear that he’s truly going to be hospitalized.

He knows he’s exactly twenty-four pounds under the lowest ‘healthy’ weight for his height and age. He cannot gain twenty-four pounds back. He knows he’s not fat, but he can’t stand the idea of having fat hanging over the waist of his jeans again. He can’t stand the way his legs would rub together, thighs smushed when he sits.

“Thank you. I’ll keep him inside. Yes.” She’s finishing up on the phone before his mum is slowly moving towards him, as though afraid. Probably afraid he’d take off running if she moved too fast.

She wouldn’t be crazy, he’s thinking about how far he can run before passing out again, which houses on the block have bushes he can duck and blackout behind without being seen.

“You have to do this, Harry.”

I don’t have to do anything.

“Mum, you don’t understand. I’m fine, I promise I’ll eat more, I’ll show you my journal every day! Please give me a chance -” He scrambles, nearly dropping to his knees again just to beg for control again.

“You know he’s lying, mum. You know he’s bullshitting.” Gemma says, voice quiet but stable again.

“Honey, I don’t have a choice. I can’t lose my baby.” Anne leans in to wrap her arms around his shoulders, gently shaking with her sobs as she wets the shoulder of his shirt.

She doesn’t want to tell him the bones of his shoulders feel like they could bruise her arms, she doesn’t want to say how frail he feels beneath her weight.

Harry doesn’t need her to, he’s worked damn hard for his collarbones and shoulder blades. He knows what he feels like.

“Please, mum.” He begs, voice cut by his tears, his body shaking as he loses control of it all. His sobs come out in waves, retching from his chest and burning his throat raw. His eyes are swollen in moments with the outpouring of constant tears, and his mind is blank with panic.

“It’ll be okay, baby. I promise it’ll be okay again.” He feels the room sway, sick building behind his throat until he opens his eyes and sees that it’s his mum rocking them side to side, trying to soothe him like she did when he was a child.

He doesn’t know how long they stand there, doesn’t hear anything but the sound of her voice as she rocks him and gives him the only reassurances she can. He doesn’t hear the knock at the door or Gemma going to open it.

He doesn’t hear it when paramedics walk through the house, stretcher prepared by the door. It isn’t until his mother tries to pull away from him that he feels it.

It starts as painful cold covering his skin, like burning ice. He’s cold and shaking, he can’t stop the tears and he doesn’t understand what the paramedics are asking him. There’s a light in his eyes, moving around and blinding him, and then someone’s wrapping their arms around him.

It’s not his mum, it’s not Gemma, he can’t see properly anymore and it’s like his mind isn’t moving anymore - everything is a blur and his head feels heavy again.

Someone is pushing him gently but firmly towards the door and the last thing he feels is his mum grabbing his hand before the blackness soaks his vision and he feels his knees hit the floor.

Chapter Text

The only thing Harry could distinguish when he woke up again was white. Not blinding white light, not white noise surrounding him - just white. The walls of the hospital were white, the gowns of patients moving around him were white, the tiling of the floors was white .

He was being wheeled through a floor of the hospital after being given a pair of bracelets he couldn’t remove, a gown, and a pee cup. Having done the test and put on his gown, he was being assigned a temporary room to be seen by a doctor and put on watch.

After a heated argument in the ambulance, the nurses who checked him in determined that he posed a threat to his own safety and put him on suicide watch. His belongings were bagged immediately after he changed into the gown, every last item he’d had on him.

The bag was locked in one of the drawers in his assigned room, and when the nurse pushing him along turned, he saw a comfortable looking bed in a fairly small room. The man made it clear that the door was to be left open at all times as well as the curtains, and that his mother had contacted and was on her way.

Harry couldn’t deny that he was grateful she was coming. He hated hospitals; doctors terrified him not because of needles or shots - but because they might find something else wrong with him.

For now, he was left alone. He was honestly a little afraid to stand from the wheelchair, head still heavy and body still very weak. He knew that there was no way out of this. He’d been caught.

The bed looked pretty comfortable, he decided, but it was in direct view of the door. The main desk on this floor was almost straight across from his door, so he took the chair in the corner instead. It rocked slightly, so Harry used the movement to ease his mind a small bit.

He was vaguely aware that he was passing time staring at the wall, at the door, and at the nurse who popped her head in to check on him every time she passed by.

He couldn’t focus on anything; his brain was foggy and his muscles were sore. He wasn’t totally sure what happened at the house. He knew he’d blacked out more than once but he doesn’t remember everything as clearly as he did before. The only vivid picture he has after the first blackout is of his mother sobbing in agony.

Harry doesn’t ever want to think about the pain in her eyes at that moment again.

He tries to look around the room, and while there’s a television hanging on the wall opposite him, he can’t turn it on. He manages to catch the nurse on her next round, asking for the remote.

“Sorry, hun. I can’t give you the remote until your parent is here.” She says, a soft smile hanging on the edges of her lips.

Harry briefly wonders what’s taking his mum so long to get to the hospital, but he’s too tired. He just feels so tired , like he’s going on three days without sleep and he’s been walking the entire time. He aches and his eyes burn as he once again stares at the wall in wait.

“Harry,” He hears his mum before he registers her walking into the room, “Honey, are you okay?”

Her voice is quiet, but she seems relieved to see him, almost like she thought he’d escaped or ran off on his own. She walks slow and her steps are quiet.

“I’m fine. I was fine.” He says, lips numb and voice shot.

They don’t speak again, and Harry wonders where exactly everything fell apart.

There’s a knock in the doorway, and the nurse making rounds every so often walks in to greet Anne.

“You’re his mother, correct? My name is Linda. A doctor and social worker will be coming in as soon as they’re available, but for now, we need to assess Harry’s current needs.”

Anne nods and stands next to Harry, and something about the proximity and sudden liveliness in the room starts to wake him up a bit.

He stands from his chair to give his mum a seat, before climbing onto the soft but cold bed in the center of the room.

“Alright. So, Harry. I understand that you don’t want to be here, but while you are, let’s chat.” Linda sighs, a tired smile on her face. “Addressing the obvious, you’re very underweight. The possibility of that changing distressed you greatly… would you like to tell me why?”

Harry stares at her, wondering if she was genuinely this stupid, or if she was just doing her job.

“I don’t want to get fat. Again.” He says simply. He looks at the blank television screen again but sees that Linda is writing line after line on the papers in her folder.

“What are you writing?” Anne asks from beside him, leaning to peer around his shoulder at the woman as well.

“We have to keep a detailed record while he’s here because he’s on watch, but this is really only going to be shared with the social worker that comes in later. Taking notes now means less repeating yourself later.” The nurse gives another small smile before she takes out a few packets of paper.

“These are some basic assessments. Ordinarily, you’d fill them out on your own, but I can’t let you use a pen,” Harry rolls his eyes so hard it makes his head hurt at that, “So I’ll be filling in your answers. Harry, do you want your mother here while we do these? The material might be… sensitive if you two haven’t discussed your current situation.”

He thinks for a bit, staring straight at the wall ahead of him because he knows if he turns to his mum, he’ll only see her screaming on the floor again. He can’t do it.

“I won’t talk about this with her again. If she wants to hear it, she can stay.”

Linda just nods. Anne sniffs a little, and Harry steels himself in preparation for her tears.

“Well. You’ve indicated an eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm. Are you aware of any other diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues?”

The ‘assessments’ are booklets no less than ten pages each, filled with multiple choice questions about his mental health. Harry pretends he can’t hear his mum crying quietly beside him, and he doesn’t look at Linda again when she pats him on the shoulder on her way out of the room. The doctor is in shortly after that, but all he does is check his body for any signs of damage, concussion, or internal issues.

“You’re lucky, you know. You’re bruised up and your heart is a bit slower than I’d like right now, but you could’ve cracked your skull open.” The doctor swipes his grey hair back and smiles too widely at Harry.

He sighs. “I know.”

“I’ll send the social worker in when she’s available.”

With that, Harry is left alone with his mum again.

 

 

He may as well have been completely alone altogether. It’s been over an hour since the doctor left, and his mum hasn’t said a single word. She hasn’t spoken to him, and he can’t bear to look at her now.

So they sit, silent and tense.

It takes another twenty minutes, according to the obnoxiously loud clock ticking away in the corner, for the social worker to arrive.

She knocks, despite walking through the door before Harry can look up at her, and she’s carrying a folder, the assessment booklets he just answered, and a clipboard with lots of papers.

“Hello, Harry. I’m Sarah.” He nods at her, feeling a bit awkward in the cold room as he waits for her to sit. She doesn’t, continuing to stand near the door. “This is going to be the hardest part of your stay here. I need to know exactly what’s going on with you and where you need to be right now.”

He hums in acknowledgment. He still doesn’t want to look at her, though. Her shirt is bright yellow and contrasts grossly with her brown suit pants and Harry hates it.

“Based on your answers and medical history confirmed by your therapist, you have been diagnosed with EDNOS, depression, avoidant personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and suicidal ideation. That’s a lot. Do you agree with these, or do you feel they’re wrong?” Sarah looks Harry in the eye when she speaks and he wants to be anywhere else in the world.

“They’re right.” He mumbles out.

“Okay. So you understand what is going on in your brain. Do you also understand that those issues require treatment?” She barely glances at her papers as she shuffles them around in her arms, pulling a pen from the board and scribbling notes on the same page the nurse was writing on earlier.

“Yes. I don’t need it though -”

“So you don’t understand it. Okay,” She cuts him off brashly and her eyebrow is cocked when Harry looks up at her.

“Excuse me, I said I get it.” His nerves tingle and his legs are aching to move, but he’s trying to be calm. He had a plan; he’d planned for this, in case he somehow got hospitalized, he knew all he had to do was flash a smile at every nurse and play along but this is fucking it all up.

“Harry, you’re dying and still refusing help. You don’t get it.” Sarah’s voice is dangerously steady as she says this, and Harry is fucking livid.

“Oh please, I’m hardly that fucking skinny -” Harry stands from the bed, and he knows he shouldn’t. He knows he needs to sit back down and be docile and pretend he’s fine so he can go home without being force-fed in some fucking institute for a month.

“You’re underweight and desperate to lose no less than fifty to seventy-five more pounds, which puts you into the heart failure range. You will die if you do not get help.” Anne lets out another sob all of a sudden, and Harry realizes she’s been crying for a while now.

“Are you going to continue resisting treatment, or can we work something out that doesn’t require inpatient?” And this stops him mid-blink.

“I don’t have to do inpatient?” Harry asks. He’s too aware of the dangerous game he’s playing with this woman right now but he’ll do almost anything right now to keep out of inpatient.

“If you can cooperate honestly and truly with a plan, then your therapist and I believe it may be more beneficial for you to try an intensive outpatient program. This is eight to ten hours a day in a clinic facility, group therapy three times a week, and daily sessions with a nutritionist, a psychiatrist, and your current therapist.”

“If it’s that or inpatient, I’m not taking IP.” Harry answers, locking his hands in his lap to occupy his tense and sore muscles.

“Then let’s work out the details and talk about the center you’ll be going to. You’ll be doing an overnight intake after your seventy-two hours here are up.” Sarah clicks her pen and sets her papers down next to Harry, pulling out a thin folder and handing it to him. 

Chapter Text

Seventy-two hours turns out to be a very, very long time to be sitting in a hospital room watching reruns of Kitchen Nightmares and begging your mum to let you listen to music on her phone. 

Gemma doesn’t visit Harry the entire time. His mum only stays at night so he isn’t alone.

It’s a very lonely three days. 

He doesn’t want to admit it, but after caving to the food requirement (after being threatened with tube feeding) Harry’s starting to miss eating real food. Only, he knows he can’t go back. 

He won’t be able to for a long time. Even if he believed he wouldn’t just gain all his fat right back, he’d be sick for days if he stuffed himself with a single serving of his used-to-be favorite pasta.

The food the hospital gives him is surprisingly edible, starting with jello cups and turning into whole pieces of toast and a whole glass of strawberry milk. He detests the way his brain screams as if it’s in agony every time he finishes anything, every time the nurse collects an empty tray.

He’d only ever purged a few times in his life, and he hated throwing up, but after binge eating a whole sandwich, a bottle of chocolate milk, and a jello cup, Harry couldn’t stomach it. The food sat like rocks in his stomach for only three minutes before he felt it coming up.

Sitting over the toilet felt dirty, like falling to his knees in worship of the sickness breaking his bones.

He wonders what it would be like to let the voices in his head win him over. Would he still feel so holy? Would the emptiness ringing through his body when his knees were bruising on cold tile bring him closer to heaven?

Harry is slightly delirious with dizziness while he rests on his knees for a while. It isn’t long before someone is tapping at his door and rushing into the small bathroom to find him.

He’s being pulled roughly to his feet, and he can feel the nurse who’s been in and out of his room all day wiping aggressively at his face. He squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head, but gives in when he’s dragged through the bathroom door.

He hears the nurse mumbling, loud enough for him to hear but quiet enough to seem like she didn’t think he could. 

“Jesus, you fucking baby. Can’t even keep a fucking jello cup down because no one’s paying you any attention. Fucking brat.” Harry’s blood freezes in his veins as the words stab into his head. He barely feels the tears until they’re overflowing, and the woman huffs as she shoves him towards the bed and presses the call button.

“Get over yourself.” She looks Harry in the eye for a moment before stomping out of the room. It’s only moments before a new nurse, one Harry has yet to meet, comes sweeping in but it feels like an hour. He’s confused and weak and the words ringing in his head are so painful, like knives wretched into his brain.

 This woman is gentle and careful, offering to help him rinse his mouth out, asking what had happened. She’s brushing his hair out of his eyes and rubbing his back through the sobs racking his chest, but Harry barely feels her touch at all.

“I didn’t mean to,” Harry whimpers, but he can barely speak through his shaking lips and clenched jaw, and the tears keep coming. He starts to wonder what he’d done so wrong to deserve this, but his thoughts don’t circle for long before the ringing in his ears begins and the darkness envelopes him again.

 

At the end of his required stay, Harry is faced with his mother and the social worker, Sarah. Anne stands rigid, never looking Harry in the eye, and listens attentively to the social worker discuss his overnight stay at the center he was being transferred to. The hospital was providing shuttle transportation for him and he’d be accompanied by the social worker and a nurse from the center who was coming to meet him.

It wasn’t just anxiety fueling Harry’s fear anymore. It wasn’t even the fear of gaining weight. He’d heard so many horror stories about treatment centers like these; being abused or mocked all day, being fed spoiled food, being forced to shower with a group in crowded showers, even being force fed unregulated medications. The realization that he’d never heard of this place only forced him closer to the edge of panic as the new nurse walked into Harry’s room to greet him.

“Hello, Harry. I’m Amanda, I work at the Auburn behavioral health center, where you’ll be going.” Her voice is soft, and her small frame reminds Harry a bit of a pixie, almost. “I’m going to be one of the nurses overseeing your care, along with Sarah and a few others. Once we’re at the center, I’ll show you around and help you get situated for tonight.”

Harry nods, head feeling fuzzy and heavy. His skin is cold, and he hadn’t been allowed to have his clothes back yet, so his back is exposed in the gown still covering him. He doesn’t look the small woman in the eyes, he doesn’t look back up at Sarah. He feels lost. He doesn’t like not knowing what’s next, he’s not used to being so out of control.

Harry is jarred out of his hazy thoughts by a hand settling on his shoulder. He tenses, and he can’t help but wonder when he became so afraid of everyone else.

“I know this is scary, so I’m not going to patronize you and say it will all be fine and you’ll love it - the reality is, no one goes to treatment because they want to. But I’ve been in your shoes before. I spent a lot of time in the very center I work in now, and it saved my life. I do what I do because I want others to see that life can be worth living.”

Harry looks at the woman’s face for the first time. Her eyes are wide and honest when they meet his, and there’s something in the deep blue there that tells Harry he’ll be okay. 

He doesn’t believe it, but he tries.



The center is nothing like Harry imagined. The building isn’t some huge, abstract structure with dark windows lining off-white walls. There’s no massive parking lot, no hospital attached. It’s a smaller building, maybe three or four stories, with smooth wood detailing and earth tones all around. There’s a hint of a small garden in the back, Harry notices as he walks off the shuttle steps.

Sarah walks close behind him, nearly on his heels. Amanda guides him through the entrance, and Harry is mortified when he sees several people milling around the front desk who stop to greet him with waves.

He hadn’t been given his real clothes back, but the hospital had given him a thin, papery shirt and matching pants. His head is aching, his limbs are sore, his mind is blank and he feels out of it. The eyes on him make him feel sick, but it’s too hard to focus. 

He wants to turn to his mother, who was trailing behind the group, and wrap himself in her arms like he did as a child. He wants to turn around and run out the door, run all the way home and lock himself away. 

He wants out of his own mind. 

There’s paperwork, there’s wristbands, there’s a set of clothes. Amanda and Sarah say a lot of things Harry doesn’t care about. Soon enough, though, it’s time for Anne to leave. 

Her hand brushes over Harry’s shoulder, her voice coming out pained and quiet.

“I love you, Harry. I don’t want to lose you.”

That’s the last thing Harry hears before he's led through the heavily secured doors left of the front desk.