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That which is indestructible

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Connor Murphy walked through the facility with his head down, not really listening to the words the person, whoever the fuck they were, explain how welcoming and effective their program for fixing kids works.

 

He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets and bites on his lip until he feels his mother’s hand squeeze his shoulder. He clearly missed something.

 

“Conner, they asked what you’re thinking about all of this?”

 

Rage sparked in his belly, but he was too tired after his release from the hospital today to yell at the moment. He shrugged instead and looked back down at the floor.

 

“Well, why don’t we make our way to nursing and we can get his vitals and go over his meds.”

 

“Yes, there were some changes during his stay at the hospital and I had some questions…”

 

Connor tuned out his mother. She always had so many fucking questions about his medications but never about how they were affecting him. As long as he stopped being an inconvenience at home she didn’t fucking care if he was always shaking, or couldn’t sleep, or was tired all the fucking time, or couldn’t eat because he was nauseated whenever he saw food.

 

Hand on his shoulder again. He jerked out of his mother’s grip, “Stop fucking touching me!”

 

He could feel his chest heaving and he dug his nails into the palm of his hand as well as he could. Once he started scratching himself in the hospital they cut them.

 

“Hi there Connor, I’m Carol, one of the nurses here. We can end with vitals if you’re not feeling up to being touched, how does that sound?” Her face was kind and neutral, no sign of fear or disgust at the way he'd snapped at his mother. 

 

He sat up on the bed, crinkling the white paper as he tried to find a comfortable position. He saw his mother’s falling face and white hot shame and anger and devastation filled his stomach. He wanted to disappear.

 

He dropped his head into his hands and tried to keep tears from falling. He couldn’t do anything but hurt people, he was a fucking plague to the world and his family. He failed them constantly.

 

He couldn’t even fucking kill himself right.

 

Now he was here in this stupid locked down facility where they would pretend like he could be anything other than who he is. Carol, trying to give him time to calm down as if he was ever not angry .

 

His throat tightened at the thought of his mother getting false hope that he could get better. Zoe and Larry couldn’t care less about whether he came home or not and that was fine, Connor knew they were worse off with him in their lives and he couldn’t blame them.

 

He hated himself more than anyone else in the world could possibly hate him.

But his mom, his fucking mother, she always wanted to try everything to make him into the son she wanted him to be. And her stupid hope made him so sad and angry because she keeps leading him into another failure and herself into another disappointment.

 

He missed all of the conversation around his new medications and the process for discontinuing the ones that weren’t working. A clipboard was shoved under his nose and he signed it without even looking it over.

 

He wasn’t planning to live to see the effects of the new drugs or whatever anyway.

 

“Can you remove your sweatshirt please?”

 

Connor would usually ask his mom to leave, but when he was in the hospital last she’d seen everything, the overlapping scars, old and new, on his arms. The occasional perfect circle where he put a cigarette out on his arm.

The nurse unwrapped his arms and made polite conversation with him as she reapplied some anti-bacterial shit and wrapped them again. He zoned out as she took his blood pressure and temperature. She listened to his pulse and breathing and he wondered if she would still be this gentle with him when she saw how horrible he could be.

 

With a quick goodbye, he was ushered off to the next appointment where he had to meet his new therapist.

 

He glared at the stupid degree on the wall and ignored what she was saying.

 

“Connor, please look at me.” Her voice was calm and collected, “I understand that you don’t want to be here, but you can leave as long as we check off a few boxes right now, okay?”

 

He pulled his gaze down to the desk where a sheet of paper and a pen awaited him.

 

“Safety plan?” He wrinkled his nose.

 

“For if you start to feel like you want to hurt yourself or others.”

 

More anger, it was always anger, “So you think I’m some kind of psychopath?”

 

“No, I don’t think you’re a psychopath. I think you’re a normal teenage boy struggling with his mental health. This is just to make sure you’re safe during your stay here.” She pushed the pen toward him and he scowled. 

 

“It doesn’t matter what we do here. I’m a fucking disease and nothing is going to fix me. The second I get out of here I’m going to fucking off myself, okay? And maybe for the first time in my life I’ll actually succeed at something.”

 

His mom made a choking sound from the chair next to him and he stood up, grunting and shouting in frustration as he kicked the chair and punched the brick wall with his bare knuckles three times.

 

He whirled around at the sound of another one of his mom's choked sobs, “Stop acting so upset, Cynthia, you, Larry and Zoe can’t fucking wait for me to never bother you again. You’ve already signed me away here, you can go home and stop the fucking act.”

 

“Connor, baby, we all love you.”

 

“Stop lying to me! Zoe is fucking scared of me, Larry hates me and I’m your fucking pet project that never turns out the way you want. If you cared about me you would just let me fucking die!”

 

Connor punched the wall again and kicked the trash bin across the room. He sunk to the floor, pressing his face into his knees and burying his hands into his hair and pulling, pulling, pulling as he tried to breathe. He wanted to hurt himself so badly, if he hurt himself maybe he could stop hurting others.

 

His mom was crying, again. He always made her cry.

 

He couldn’t stop the hot tears and hiccuping breaths. He wanted to die, why couldn't he just die? The world would be better off without him, he never did anything right, he hurt everything he touched. He couldn't be saved, he couldn't be saved, god he couldn't breathe. Maybe this could be the end.

 

“Connor, can you hear me?” His therapists voice was soft, and he was grateful because everything was so fucking loud. He nodded.

 

“Good, I want you to hold this ice pack. We need to stop the scratching. There you go, you’re doing so well, breathe with me okay?”

 

Connor stayed curled up, but held the cold pack against his forehead. His breaths still stuttered, but he could hear his therapist.

 

“In for four counts, Connor, one...two….three...four…”

 

He didn’t know how long they sat there breathing, but it was long enough for Connor to come back to himself and realize that his mom and therapist had joined him in the corner of the office on the floor.

 

“Connor…” His mom whispered and the tentative peace Connor had established was broken. He fell into his mom’s arms, burying his face into her neck.

 

“I-I’m sorry, I’m sorry, there’s something wrong with me, I’m a monster, I’m sorry.” Connor sobbed into his mom’s blouse, and she held him tightly, hands carding through his long, greasy hair.

 

“I’ve got you, sweetie, we’ll keep trying, whatever it takes, you’re going to be okay.”

 

Connor eventually sagged against his mom and rubbed at his eyes. He felt so small.  He allowed his mom to guide him back to the desk where the unfinished safety plan was sitting.

 

“Let’s try to make our safety plan again, Connor. Let me know if you need a break, we also have some assessments to complete.”

 

Connor nodded and handed the warm ice pack back to her. She smiled and put it away before rummaging in her desk.

 

“You can look through these, Connor. They’re just fidgets that might help occupy your hands. Lots of people find that they help with stress, anxiety, anger, and urges to hurt themselves. I want you to take a few of them with you.”

 

“Um, okay.” Connor peered into the plastic bin that she placed on the desk.

 

“While you look through those, I’ll start asking some questions. These are three signs that I’m feeling suicidal…”

 

Connor answered with whatever came to his mind first, until they got to the last part. He froze.

 

“Connor? Did you hear the question?”

 

He nodded and looked down at the squishy, sad-looking egg toy he had in his hands, “Yeah, I just don’t really. I don’t have any friends or people to call, or whatever. So.”

 

“What about your mom?” The question was gentle, even though Connor wasn't sure how someone could make a question gentle.

 

He shrugged, “I guess. I just - I already make her cry and I don’t want to be a burden or whatever. Um, she has enough to focus on and it would just, uh, disappoint her more. I think.”

 

“Mrs. Murphy, I’m wondering what you think about Connor calling you if he’s feeling suicidal?”

 

His mom’s voice was watery and she brushed his hair out of his eyes before speaking. He could see her working to control her wobbling chin and shaking hands.

 

“Oh Connor, you could never be a burden. I’m your mom, I decided to devote my life to you the second I heard your heartbeat for the first time. I feel like the last few years I haven’t been able to reach you. It’s like you were screaming behind a glass door I couldn’t get through. Please call me, baby, I’m trying to learn how to help. I want to be there for you but sometimes I don’t know how to reach you or help you.”

 

Connor nodded and another tear fell onto his cheek. He wiped it away roughly, “I don’t know what would help me, either.”

 

“We can all figure that out together. It will be some trial and error, and it sounds like we need to rebuild some trust and talk about the relationships in the family.”

 

Connor inhaled sharply and squeezed his egg thing, “I don’t want to see Larry.’

 

“Con-”

 

“Of course, Connor has the right to decline visitors when they come. Mrs. Murphy, would you be okay with focusing on you and Connor in therapy at first and revisit bringing Mr. Murphy in once Connor is feeling more stable in his relationship with you?”

 

His mom sighed and pet his head again, “Yes, of course, I don’t want him to be overwhelmed. It’ll be good to take it slow.”

 

“Thanks,” Connor mumbled under his breath.

 

“Now, let’s move onto some assessments. The first is a diagnostic assessment, this is to make sure Connor has the right diagnosis. This will help guide his treatment team and make sure he’s getting the best care possible…”

 

It was a long day. By the time he was saying goodbye to his mom and joining the community room with the other residents, it was almost 3pm. His eyes felt heavy and swollen and he just wanted to lie down. If he had to talk, he might cry or yell and that always ended badly.

 

He was looking around the room, taking note of all the kids there - some of which looked very young. He wondered what his life would have been like if he’d come here earlier.

 

“Hi there! I’m Dawn. I’m one of the tech’s here.”

 

Connor looked at her and she smiled at him, “Uh, hi.”

 

“I can show you around the community room if you’d like? There are a lot of things to do here when we have leisure time. We’ll also go over our sharps policy and the daily schedule.”

 

Connor was sick of fucking clipboards. He knew it shouldn’t be making him angry (who got mad at a fucking clipboard?), but it was and he wanted to rip it from Dawn’s hands and throw it at the window. It would be nice if the window broke. If he wasn’t only one story up he’d throw himself out, too.

 

He stared moodily at the ground until she let him go, saying there would be a welcome group in a little while, once they started yoga.

 

Connor went to the back table where there were art supplies and only one kid hunched over a notebook.

 

Connor grabbed a sheet of paper and a pencil from the middle of the table and began to draw. He didn’t really think much about it, just sort of doodled on the paper until he was interrupted.

 

“Um h-hi.” The kid across from him was speaking, which was not great, because people had been talking at him all fucking day and Connor just wanted it to stop, “I-I’m E-evan.”

 

Connor sighed and finally looked up at the kid, “I’m Connor," The kid looked familiar, "Hey, don’t you go to my school?”

 

Evan’s eyes widened, “O-oh, you’re Connor M-murphy. Y-yeah.”

 

“You hang out with that Kleinman asshole.”

 

Evan looked down and picked at his cast and Connor felt momentarily guilty for making the other kid sad.

 

“H-he’s just a f-family f-friend. He h-had to t-talk to me so his p-parents would pay his c-car insurance. H-he hasn’t even c-come to v-visit.”

 

Connor shrugged, “Told you he was an asshole.”

 

Evan gave a hesitant chuckle, “Hey, would you m-maybe sign my c-cast?”

 

Evan held out his arm. The cast was blank and Connor figured he probably didn’t have any friends and he sure wasn’t on the other side of the room where kids were talking and watching the TV.

 

“Sure.” Connor rummaged around in the bin for a Sharpie and then covered half the cast with his name, “So does this mean we’re friends now?”

 

Evan looked like a deer caught in headlights, “S-sure!”

 

Connor pursed his lips, “So what’re you drawing.”

 

Evan blushed and turned his sketchbook around and there was a rough sketch of a tree and some facts about it scribbled on the side of the page.

 

“So you like trees.”

 

Evan nodded, “They’re o-one of the most important c-contributors to the ecosystem. D-did you know…”

 

Connor was content to listen as Evan rambled about trees emphatically. He nodded along with the boy’s words and found that his anger began to dissipate. Maybe he could make it to the end of the day. 

Chapter Text

Connor was sitting down at dinner, picking at his food. He stabbed the noodles with a fork and tried to eat them but his stomach turned. Giving up, he put his head down on the table. God, he was so fucking tired all the time.

 

His psychiatrist told him it was the medication changes, that he might feel nauseated as he went off the antidepressants and onto the mood stabilizer. He pushed the plate away, the smell of the food made him want to gag.

 

“Um, are you - are you okay?” Evan’s hesitant voice pulled him out of his fog and he looked up.

 

“Yeah, just nauseous.” Connor put his head back down. He didn’t really feel like talking. He felt the telling pressure behind his eyes that signaled coming tears. He needed to breathe, holding his breath wouldn’t keep the tears away. In for four….hold. He tried to focus on his breathing like he learned.

 

Being nauseated wasn’t a reason to cry. His ears began to ring and his shoulders shuddered. He watched with blurry eyes as a tear fell onto his jeans. He should’ve brought that damn stupid egg thing downstairs with him because now his skin was itching like he needed to get out of it, god he just needed to get out of his skin.

 

Fuck, he couldn’t fucking breathe. Coughing through a sob, Connor got up from the table and rushed toward the door that went out to the patio. He could hear quick footsteps following him and he barreled through the door.

 

He wasn’t supposed to leave the facility on his own, he knew that, but he was suffocating. He was suffocating and he couldn’t even fucking think because of the meds and his stomach was coiling in tight knots because his mom and Larry were going to hear about this and they were going to tell him he needs to try harder and try harder and Connor couldn’t do that.

 

He was trying so hard and it wasn’t fucking working.

 

With his next sob he lowered himself onto the cool brick, wet with the heavy air that came after a rain.

 

He knew someone was with him but he couldn’t hear what they were saying. Connor hugged his knees to his chest and rocked back and forth as he gasped for air and tried not to gag on it.

 

It didn’t work, he couldn’t breathe right and the next thing he knew he was throwing up on the brick.

 

He lowered himself down to lay on the ground and pressed his cheek into the cool brick as he continued to cough. 

 

“Connor.”

 

He felt gentle hands helping him up, “Connor can you hear me?”

 

The voice was just ringing in his ears and it was so fucking loud so he flattened his hands against his ears because he couldn’t fucking take it. He hated this, hated himself and he dug his fingers into the skin around his ears and pulled on them until he could feel the warm wet feeling of blood on his hands.

 

Someone was tapping on his shoulder.

 

Four beats, pause. Four beats, pause. Four beats, pause. Again.

 

He coughed again and opened his eyes. His therapist Emily was crouching next to him, her lips were moving but her voice sounded like he was underwater. He could see her shoulders rising with deep breaths and he tried to follow her, but his lungs quivered and he kept shuddering and the tears kept coming back and he dug his fingers in even harder because he was going to float away, fuck, he was floating away and the only thing keeping him there was the pain, pain meant he was in his body and he could breathe if he was in his body.

 

He came back to Emily again, focusing on the way she tapped his shoulder until suddenly someone was guiding one of his hands away from his ear and placing an ice pack into it. Ice packs helped, he used them before and he pressed it against his forehead while he tried to catch his breath.

 

“Connor, can you hear me now?”

 

He nodded with a wheezing sob.

 

“Can you tell me something you can see?”

 

Connor opened his eyes, “Shoes.”

 

“What color are they?” She asked and Connor took a deep breath so that he could speak.

 

“Black.”

 

“Good, now what is something you can hear?”

 

Connor sniffled and tried to focus beyond the ringing in his ears but he couldn’t, he couldn’t hear anything else, “There’s just -” He gasped for more air as panic swept over him again, “Ringing, I can’t fucking h-hear.”

 

“You can hear me, focus on my voice, Connor. Do you know who I am?”

 

Connor nodded.

 

“I need you to tell me, Connor. Can you tell me who I am and where you are?”

 

Connor nodded and stifled the next sob that wanted to escape him, “Emily. My th-therapist. I’m at Sunstone t-treatment center.”

 

He was shaking now, but the world was starting to solidify around him. His tears were abating, slowly, but his breaths were coming a bit easier.

 

“I threw up.” He stated pressing the ice pack to his sweating forehead. His stomach turned, “I think I might be sick again.”

 

He heard Emily say something reassuring and he turned around to vomit again. His mouth tasted so badly, and he just wanted to lie down somewhere and never wake up again.

 

“Connor, are you feeling ready to go inside? I’d like the nurse to look at your injuries.”

 

Connor brought his hand to the damp area on the side of his head on touched it, wincing at the sting for a moment before looking at the red-orange smear of blood on his fingers, “Oh.”

 

He stood up on shaky legs and Emily scanned her badge to let them back in. He was quiet the whole way. He could hear the questions swirling around in his therapists mouth as the nurse looked him over and wiped over the small punctures and scratches with an alcohol wipe.

 

“You’re good to go, Connor.” The nurse smiled at him. Her name was Anne and when she had a moment she would come to the community and draw or play games with them. Connor thought she was nice.

 

“We’re going to stay in here for a moment, Anne.”

 

She nodded and left the room, shutting the door behind her.

 

“What happened back there?”

 

Connor shrugged, “I was - I was trying to eat but the medications are making me feel so sick and I’m not getting any better and I swear I’m trying - I’m trying but how can anyone know if I still want to go to sleep and just never wake up, I don’t know-”

 

“Connor, it’s okay. It’s only been a couple weeks, nobody is expecting you to be better. This is hard and I know you’re trying. You’ve been doing well, but the medications are going to take time. We need to get you off the SSRI slowly, and increase your dose of the mood stabilizer slowly to avoid dangerous effects.”

 

Connor nodded, he’d heard this a million times in the last couple weeks.

 

“It’s going to take time. For now, I want you to keep practicing the other skills we’ve been working on.”

 

He nodded again. He didn’t want to talk, he just wanted to go to sleep.

 

“Connor, your family is here for visiting tonight. I was going to join all of you for an hour to see how you all get along and help out if things start to escalate. Do you remember this?”

 

Connor shrugged, “Um, I kinda lost track of the days. I’m tired.”

 

“I know, but I want you to at least try with us tonight. We won’t get into anything deep, just some light conversation. Your mom brought some books for you.”

 

Connor felt a little bit of energy at the mention of his books, he missed being able to read whenever he wants. He’d asked his mom for some books the other night when he called her (she had sounded so happy and he felt so guilty for being a horrible son).

 

“Okay.” He followed Emily back downstairs after they made a pitstop in the community room so he could grab a couple of his fidgets. He knew Emily would talk to him later about hurting himself when he was upset and he didn’t want it to happen in front of his mom, especially since Larry was going to be there and Connor knew it was going to suck and turn out horribly because Larry hated him and thought he was faking it for attention and Connor knew those things because Larry had said them before.

 

He took a deep breath and squeezed his egg thing tightly.

 

Visitors must have been allowed in when he was upstairs with the nurse. He made eye contact with his mom, who must have noticed his blotchy face and swollen eyes because she looked sad for a moment and strode over to pull him into a tight embrace.

 

He squeezed his eyes shut and leaned in, tentatively wrapping his arms around her shoulders.

 

“Are you okay, baby?” She rubbed her hands in comforting circles on his back and Connor’s throat tightened for a moment.

 

He cleared his throat, but his voice was still scratchy, “Just a hard night.”

 

He glanced over to the table where Larry and Zoe sat. With a nod from Emily, they made their way over there. Connor sat down and lowered his gaze to his shoes, his hair falling in front of his face so he couldn’t see their faces or their disappointment.

 

“So, Connor, you ready to come home yet?” Larry’s voice was loud and Connor winced. His ears were still ringing from earlier.

 

“Don’t be like that, Larry, of course he isn’t ready. It’s only been two weeks.”

 

“I’m just saying, he’s seventeen, he needs to get a job and get his act together before school  starts or he won’t graduate.”

 

Connor pulled his legs up to his chest and set his forehead on his knees. He wanted another ice pack. He knew his dad would already be disappointed, he should be better, he needs to be better.

 

Emily jumped in at that moment and Connor's breath came back, “I don’t think it’s helpful for Connor to talk about school or work right now. Connor, why don’t you tell your parents about your friend while I grab another ice pack for you?”

 

Emily stood and walked across the room to where the freezer was located.

 

“You’ve made a friend? Connor, that’s wonderful!” His mother’s voice was wavering with happiness and he looked up from his knees. Zoe was wide-eyed, like she thought he would burst at any moment. His dad looked annoyed, or angry, or both.

 

He focused on his mom’s bright eyes and cleared his throat, “Yeah. His name’s Evan. He goes to the same school.”

 

“Evan Hansen?” Zoe piped up, “I can’t believe it. He’s quiet, but he always got good enough grades.” His sister paused for a moment as if searching for something to say.

 

Connor thought he understood what his mother meant when she said he was behind a glass door and couldn’t be reached. Zoe was speaking to him but it was like they were in totally separate worlds.

 

“Um, what do you two do together?” Zoe asked, right as Emily returned to the table and gave him the ice pack. He wanted to curl back into his knees but he settled for holding the ice pack in his hands, close to his chest.

 

“We draw. And he talks about trees a lot, which is cool. He’s really smart. I signed his cast.”

 

“That’s great, sweetheart. I’m proud of you.”

 

Larry scoffed and Connor tried to focus on his breathing. He looked up at Emily with desperate eyes, he was holding on by a fucking thread, he wanted to scream at his dad, tell him he’s suicidal because he’ll never be good enough, why can’t he see that having a friend is  big deal to Connor? He hasn’t had a friend since he was seven fucking years old. Tears were coming to his eyes and he put his egg on the table so he could curl up and place the ice pack on his forehead, in for four, hold, out for four.

 

“Larry, he’s trying!” His mother hissed, trying to be quiet but Connor was sitting right the fuck there.

 

“Is that a gudetama?” Zoe asked loudly, cutting through the beginnings of what surely would have escalated into an argument. Connor looked up to see Zoe pointing at his egg thing.

 

“It’s my fidget. Emily gave it to me.”

 

“But it’s gudetama!” Zoe seemed excited by this, “He’s the lazy egg, it’s a character. He’s kinda like Pusheen, you know? He’s really cute! I can’t believe you have one!”

 

Connor picked up the egg squishy and held it out to Zoe, “You can have it. I have another fidget upstairs. Um, since you like it so much?”

 

Zoe looked dumbstruck for a moment, and Connor felt his cheeks heating up as his sister left him hanging. He should’ve known she wouldn’t want anything he’s touched, Connor wouldn’t have wanted it either. He’d been horrible to Zoe for years, what reason did she have to believe Connor wouldn’t rip it out of her hand and laugh or yell at her for stealing his things the next day?

 

Connor felt his throat tighten, “Nevermind, it was dumb, I’ll just -”

 

“No!” Zoe’s cheeks were turning red too, and her eyes looked glassy. She took the egg toy from Connor’s hand and brought it to chest, “I - uh - it’s really nice. I’m-”

 

Connor felt panic rise as Zoe burst into tears and cried into the stupid egg toy.

 

“I-I’m sorry…” Connor’s voice cracked and he tried to repeat his apology again, “I didn’t mean to make her cry…”

 

His mom and Larry seemed at a loss for words and he was grateful that Emily was there because she seemed to know what to say when things started to spiral and with his family, things were always spiraling and it was always because he did something stupid like give his sister some dumb toy.

 

“Zoe, if you’re feeling up for it, can you let us know what you’re feeling?”

 

His sister took hiccuping breaths and each one tore Connor’s heart into pieces and it was giving him heartburn because he would do anything for Zoe but he was horrible, he took everything out on her the past few years and she had been scared of him. He resisted the urge to curl up, instead he focused on the way Zoe clutched the toy to her heart.

 

“I- I miss Connor. And I’m sad because he’s here and he wants to die and I don’t want him to leave us.” Her chin wobbled, and she looked so much like their mom in that moment, “And h-he always used to give me his things. B-before. Like his candies or ice cream, a-and he would let me take his bike. A-and he hasn’t given me anything in so long.”

 

“It sounds like you’re happy that Connor’s trying to reconnect with you.”

 

Zoe nodded and wiped the tears from her cheeks. Shame built inside him, he didn’t deserve his sister. She should hate him, she should yell at him and tell him to never speak to her again. He deserved it after all the nights he’d banged on her door, threatening to kill her over and over again.

 

“Why?” He choked, tears coming back (fucking weak), “You should hate me. I’ve been so horrible to you.”

 

“I can love you and still be mad at you.”

 

“Or scared of me.” Connor supplied, “I know you’re scared of me.”

 

Zoe nodded in agreement and Connor wished he could disappear again, he wished he never existed so that Zoe never would have been hurt and his dad wouldn’t be disappointed and his mom wouldn’t have to fight to keep him alive just to have him try to kill himself again.

 

“I’m more scared of losing you, though.” She said in a small voice.

 

“I’m sorry.” Connor whispered again, “I’m sorry I keep hurting you. I don’t want to, I don’t mean to keep hurting you.”

 

Connor rubbed at his eyes, trying to dispel the heat building behind them. He didn’t think he could cry anymore today without passing out.

 

“Connor, do you mind if I pull your parents away for a minute? I’d like to talk to them about our next meeting.”

 

He looked up and nodded, butterflies erupting in his stomach at the thought of being alone with his sister.

 

Zoe looked at him, a careful gaze, gentle so much like his mother’s. She moved to sit next to Connor.

 

“Um, your hair is really long.” She said, her voice was tentative, as if she thought the comment would set him off.

 

He pulled a strand out as far as it would go and frowned at it for a moment. He looked back at Zoe, “You think I should cut it?”

 

“No.” She said immediately, “It suits you. You should try pulling it back sometime, I think it would look really good.”

 

She took a purple hair tie off her wrist and offered it to him. There was a little plastic butterfly attached and Connor took it with a small smile, “Think I would look good with blue streaks? I thought those were pretty cool when you had them.”

 

Zoe blushed and smiled, “I didn’t know you noticed.”

 

“You should get them again. Maybe red next time.”

 

Zoe laughed, “I think dad would freak out. He didn’t like the blue streaks.”

 

Connor shrugged, “I don’t think dad likes anything but working these days.”

 

They both fell into silence. Connor decided to break it.

 

“So, uh, I don’t actually know how to put my hair up.”

 

Zoe reached out for the hair band and told Connor to turn around. He leaned his head back and swallowed his tears for the thousandth time that day.

 

He allowed himself to be taken back to the days where Zoe would beg him to play dress up and comb his hair and snap plastic barrettes into it and drag him to their mom to show her how pretty she’d made him.

 

For the first time that day, Connor’s smile wasn’t forced. 

Chapter Text

 

“Connor and Evan, I’d like for you two to work together on the poster for mindreading.”

 

Connor looked across the room and shot a thumbs up toward Evan, who was staring at him with wide blue eyes, clearly relieved. Probably because he’d been paired with Connor, who was the only other resident that Evan vibed with.

 

Alice, the therapist leading the group (and who was also Evan’s therapist), finished assigning kids to groups and telling them which cognitive distortion they needed to make a poster about. There were already tons of posters hanging around the room. Connor looked at them when he was bored, some of them were previous iterations of what they were doing now. Others were glittery and artsy and had inspirational quotes.

 

At least seven of them said Be-YOU-tiful and Connor wanted to gag at the lack of creativity. But also he kind of liked the message, not that he would tell anyone.



Evan met him at the back table after grabbing their large paper from Alice.

 

“S-so, what do you want to do?” Evan asked, “You’re really good at drawing, m-maybe we could - I mean, if you want to, like, do something with that.”

 

Connor smiled and reached for his bag of pens and pencils, “Okay, that’s a good idea. At least it will be more unique than the other posters in here.”

 

He pursed his lips and gazed at the giant Post-it note in front of him, “I do a lot of mindreading. I always think people are laughing at me, thinking I'm a freak and stuff. So maybe we could put examples of our own distortions on there? Like in thought bubbles above the person?”

 

“Y-yeah!” Evan sounded surprised that Connor had gone along with his suggestion of making the poster more artistic. Connor had a feeling Evan was doing a lot of his own mindreading.

 

At the top, Connor wrote the definition of mindreading: Assuming you know what people are thinking without evidence or proof of their thoughts.

 

As he moved onto drawing the person in the middle of the page, Evan started drawing some more vague figures in the background.

 

“These ones can show, like, the actual thoughts people are having? T-to kind of highlight the point. Th-that people aren't thinking those things. Probably.” Evan said it like a question, but had already begun making speech bubbles above the other figures.

 

“I like that,” Connor shrugged. 

 

The two fell into silence as they worked, occasionally looking up to smile at each other. They began to add color when Alice came over and sat next to Evan.

 

“Hey boys, this looks great! What’s the plan for the thought bubbles?”

 

Connor nodded to Evan, signaling for him to explain while he hid behind his hair and continued coloring.

 

“W-e’re adding the d-distortions to the main person’s b-bubble. And the other figures w-will have the th-thoughts people are actually having.”

 

She smiled at them, “I think that’s a great idea! So, I’ve been letting everyone know that we’re going to be presenting these at family night tonight.”

 

Connor snapped his head up and looked at Evan, whose hands started shaking so badly he dropped the marker he was holding.

 

“You can’t make him do something like that!” Connor stood up and the chair fell backward. He could feel his face turning red with anger. How could they make Evan do something like that? He was afraid to talk to one person and they wanted him to stand in front of an entire room of parents and residents?

 

“Connor, please sit. I’d like for you to understand why Evan needs to do this.” Alice’s tone was firm, and he took a shuddering breath. He picked up the chair and sat on it, trying to breathe so that he could hear Alice’s words.

 

Not many adults had offered to explain things to him. His dad and teachers always just said ‘that’s the way it is and you have to do it’ so then, of course, Connor didn’t do it just so they knew he didn’t have to do anything  he didn't want to do .

 

His therapist said this was called a power struggle. And yeah. It was. She also said it was self-sabotaging because they were often things he needed to do so he could have the future he wanted. Like going to college.

 

That was a big one. He didn’t do homework or go to class, because his parents told him he had to do it. Larry said he would never make it to college with his attitude and Connor wanted to prove him right just so his dad wouldn't get the son he wanted. 

 

So, yeah. Self-sabotaging. But Connor really wanted to go to college. Not that anyone had ever asked him. He shook himself back to the present, where Alice was staring at him patiently.

 

“Connor, Evan needs to learn how to manage his distress. Part of that means he needs to be exposed to situations that make him uncomfortable, like talking in front of other people.”

 

“Seems unfair.” He looked down at his hands and unclenched them, taking note of the half moons on his palms.

 

Alice nodded, “It is unfair that you and Evan have to face more difficulties than other kids your age. But in the long run it will be better. What if Evan wants to go to college? Or be a park ranger that teaches people about nature? He wouldn’t be able to do those things if he doesn’t practice ways to get through it.”

 

Connor nodded and looked at Evan, who was wide-eyed and staring at him. He kind of felt bad for knocking over the chair. It probably made Evan feel like all the attention was on them and he knew that bothered his friend.

 

Probably a friend. As long as Connor didn’t manage to fuck it up by doing stupid things like throwing chairs and making people afraid of him.

 

“Okay.” He grunted, “I still think it’s bullshit.”

 

Alice nodded. Connor hated the way therapists nodded like everything he said was interesting.

 

“This will be hard for Evan, but I paired him with you because you two are friends. And having the support of a friend can make even the hardest situations easier.”

 

Connor softened at her admission to pairing them together on purpose. He’d wondered why they hadn’t tried to split them up and have them branch out with other residents like they did most other times.

“You sound like a fucking fortune cookie.” He scowled and looked down, “But it makes sense so I’ll do it.”

 

Alice tapped her hands in a drumroll on the table before standing up, “Evan, I’m going to pull you out for a session after group is over so we can prepare for the family night, okay? I’m not going to throw you in there unprepared, we’ll get you through this.”

 

Evan didn’t even respond to his therapist, just dropped his head in his hands and laced his fingers through the blonde hair tightly. Connor could tell he was pulling on it and he didn’t know what to do but move to the other side of the table and try to think of a way to help his friend.

 

Connor’s mom had come to visiting hours the other night with a bag full of fidgets. Stress balls, and tiny squishy animal things, handheld puzzles, and sensory rings that were kind of spiky but not too spiky. He had many of them.

 

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a few of them, quickly locating the blue one. Evan’s favorite color was blue, which honestly wasn’t a surprise considering how much blue he wore.

 

Connor thought it was endearing. He pushed that thought away. He was not developing a crush on his only friend.

 

“Evan?” He tapped his shoulder, “You could have this. My mom brought me a lot of fidgets. This one’s blue.”

 

Evan looked up and Connor felt his eyes prickle at the sight of Evan’s watery eyes and trembling hands. He reached for it, “Th-thanks.”

 

“Is your mom coming tonight?” Connor asked, trying to open up the conversation so Evan might get out of his head. He started coloring the poster again, but kept most of his attention on Evan.

 

“Yeah, she took off work for the f-family nights.”

 

“What about your dad?”

 

Connor knew he shouldn’t have asked the second the question escaped his mouth. He’d never heard Evan talk about his dad, and that was probably for good reason.

 

“O-oh. He left when I was f-four.” Evan’s concentration was focused on the sensory ring he’d slipped over his finger.

 

Connor felt discomfort and rage burn his throat. Evan was sweet and nice, and pure , how could anyone abandon him? He couldn’t find words to say. He didn’t know what to say to someone whose dad left them.

 

“He m-met someone else and moved to C-colorado. I-I think part of it was my a-anxiety.” Evan shrugged.

 

“My dad can’t handle my depression. He thinks it’s stupid and that I’m doing it for attention. Your dad is a fucking dick.”

 

A small smile graced Evan’s face and he looked up at Connor with bright eyes and Connor had to ignore the way his breath caught in his throat a little bit.

 

“Yeah, he kind of is.”

 

“He definitely is.” Subject change, subject change. Connor didn’t know how to talk about absent fathers anymore, “Hey do you have a pass this weekend?”

 

Evan nodded, “Yeah, but only on Saturday because my mom has to work on Sunday.” More fidgeting with the ring.

 

“Maybe we could convince our parents to let us hang out, uh, if you want to.” Connor worried his lip.

 

“What? I mean, yeah, totally!” Evan looked excited, mouth opening as if he wanted to say something else but it wasn’t coming out. Instead, the blond boy blushed and picked up his marker, “We should probably finish our poster.”

 

Connor chuckled, “Yeah.”

 

They worked for a few minutes before Connor decided to break the silence.

 

“And if anyone is rude to you at family night, I’ll break their fucking wrists.”

 

Evan smiled.

Chapter Text

Evan was sweaty. This isn’t new information. At this point, he should really be better at not panicking about it.

Evan was panicking. Hopefully it would end soon, he really didn’t want to end up vomiting in front of all the parents and the residents, some of which he still hadn’t spoken to despite having been here for three and a half weeks.

He rolled the sensory ring up and down his finger as he stumbled his way through his request for his anxiety PRN at the nursing station. His therapist, Alice, was waiting for him so they could walk down to family programming.

Stay grounded. Breathe. Use the poster for reference. Three steps. Evan could do it.

Evan gulped down a glass of water with his medication and the nurse took his plastic cup from him. It was definitely going to end up in the ocean, killing a sea turtle and it would be all Evan’s fault.

He frowned and tried his best to blend into the background. It never really worked, Evan always felt stared at no matter how hard he tried to disappear. Trying to disappear forever resulted in even more staring because now he had to be watched 24/7.

He winced at how loud his footsteps were. Too loud, but Alice didn’t seem to notice, and neither did any of the families when they entered the dining room.

The only person who seemed to notice was his mother, who stood when she saw him and walked over to him, hands outstretched until she could pull him into a hug.

It was gentle. His mother’s hugs had always been gentle. She soon pulled away from him and her blue eyes, betraying her exhaustion, searched his face.

“How is it going, Evan? Are you… are you feeling any better?”

Evan nodded. His mom’s face tightened but she smiled, bringing a hand to his cheek momentarily, “I’m so proud of you.”

He cleared his throat a couple times, he never knew how to respond to his mom saying she was proud. Was he supposed to say thank you? Would she say she’s his mom, of course she’s proud of him? Does that mean she would be proud no matter what? So was she actually not proud of what he was doing now? Because it wasn’t about what he was working on here, it was just because he’s her son?

Would she be more proud of a different son?

Evan tried to slow his thoughts but it was impossible. They never stopped, and his mom must have seen the panic currently consuming him because she wrapped an arm around his torso and led him over to the table where Connor’s mom was sitting.

“I met your friends mom! I thought we could sit together so I could get to know him better! I’m glad you found someone to talk to here, honey.”

Evan did not want to sit with Connor’s mom. Sitting with Connor’s mom meant that he would have to talk to her, and probably shake her hand. And his hands were always sweaty and she would be disgusted and tell Connor he couldn’t ever talk to Evan again and Evan’s anxiety ruined everything it was the reason his dad left because Evan was too much, always too much. Too many thoughts, too much stammering, too much sweat.

He started feeling lightheaded by the time he sat down and Connor’s mom smiled at him, her teeth were very white. Were his teeth supposed to be that white? Oh god, he probably had like, a thousand cavities.

“It’s so good to meet you, Evan, Connor’s told me all about you! I’m Cynthia.”

Evan hoped that Connor didn’t say bad things. But they had to have been bad because there weren’t that many good things about Evan, “O-oh?”

He couldn’t even formulate a sentence. He was embarrassing himself and his mom.

Mom.” Connor said from his chair where he was slumped over, eyes hard as he stared at her.

“Oh stop, Connor, you and Evan are friends. You don’t have to be embarrassed about talking about him.”

“I think it’s great that you two have each other!” Heidi interjected, “Evan have you been writing those letters to yourself?”

“Y-yeah,” He stammered, his face heating. He didn’t want to talk about therapy or his anxiety because it made him more anxious to think about it. And what other people are thinking about him.

“Those are important, honey. They’ll help you build your confidence!” His mom looked so happy that he was writing the letters. Sometimes. They didn’t really help, but he didn’t want his therapist to think he wasn’t trying and he didn’t want his mom to be disappointed because she really thought this was going to work.

“I-I guess.” Evan looked down at the plate of food that his mom had gotten for him before he came downstairs. He didn’t really want to eat, because what if he got really anxious and threw up in front of everyone? That would be horrible. And what if it got on someone? That would be even worse.

He was pulled out of his thoughts by his mom.

“I can’t wait to see your presentation with Connor. I’m proud of you already!”

Evan didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know if he could speak if he tried, he didn’t have words and now he was thinking about the presentation and what he would say because if it wasn’t planned it would be so much worse.

“Evan had some really good ideas for the poster, Ms. Hansen.” Connor spoke up and Evan looked at him and his long hair that seemed very soft.

“Oh, you can call me Heidi, dear. It seems like you and Evan work well together.”

Connor nodded and finished chewing, “He knows a lot about trees. And he talks when I don’t feel like talking.”

Evan could feel eyes on him and he knew his face was turning red so he just pretended to be chewing so nobody expected him to talk but they probably knew he didn’t actually take a bite because they had been staring at him. Oh god.

He was a mess.

“But, uh, he doesn’t really talk a lot with other people. He gets anxious.”

Saved by Connor. All his hope for the night was pinned on Connor.

He focused on picking at his food, and eating an amount that would make his mom happy because he knew that she worried about him eating enough. Connor’s mom and his own mom seemed to be having a good conversation, and Evan didn’t know how he felt about their moms becoming best friends.

He wondered what Connor thought about it. He peeked over to see Connor was also picking at his food with a frown. That wasn’t very telling to Evan because Connor never smiled very much. But at least he didn’t seem angry about their moms becoming friends.

All things considered, the presentation didn’t go that badly. He stammered through the definitions and all the parts he could read off the poster. He helped hold the poster and even though he didn’t look up from his shoes, he didn’t have a panic attack or vomit in front of everyone.

Maybe he could make his letter about that. He hadn’t started one this morning, but he should really put at least one more together before his appointment tomorrow.

When they finally got to sit back down, his mom gripped his shaking hands and pulled him in, his head landing on her shoulder. He didn’t move even though it was a little uncomfortable because he was taller than her.

He focused on matching his breathing to hers, and he didn’t hear or see any of the other presentations. His anxiety meds always made him drowsy when they kicked in. Which Evan didn’t really mind, because his thoughts never raced as fast when his body was being forced into rest.

“Wake up honey, the group activity is over.” He sat up and his mom went in for a hug, “You did a great job up there. I’ll see you on Saturday morning for your pass!”

Evan nodded, “Okay, love you mom.”

He watched in terror as his mom’s eyes became watery, “Oh, Evan. I love you too. So much.”

She hugged him again, placing a kiss on his cheek. The rest of the kids were lining up to return upstairs. Connor was waiting for him, somewhere in between the line and the table where Evan and his mom were saying goodbye.

They lagged back, away from the others, as they went upstairs.

“Th-thanks for doing m-most of the presentation.” Evan

“No biggie, I thought you did pretty well considering how upset you were earlier.” Connor shrugged, and Evan remembered how Connor had defended him earlier. That was nice.

“Y-yeah. So it sounds like our m-moms are getting along well.”

Connor rolled his eyes, “She’s definitely going to rope your mom into one of her weird wine mom clubs. Just so you know.”

Evan laughed nervously, he didn’t think that would happen because his mom already didn’t have time for him. But that was too sad for him to share with Connor.

They entered the community room and sat themselves at their usual back table. Connor shook his leg for a moment, staring into the distance and Evan searched for something to say to snap his friend out of it.

But suddenly Connor looked at him and reached into the bin, “Wanna play bananagrams? I’ll kick your ass but it’ll still be fun.”

“S-sure!”

Evan liked the way Connor bit his lip in concentration and how his eyes lit up when he made a word and yelled peel. Evan also though Connor had pretty hands, much prettier than his own which had bitten nails and scabbed over cuticles.

But that was probably a weird thought to have. Normal people didn’t think much about hands, Evan thought. But his brain was weird, and he had a tendency to think about his own hands way to much.

He needed to keep all his weird observations about Connor and his hair and hands and eyes to himself because it was not normal and he definitely didn’t want to lose his only friend.

“Bananas!” Connor threw his hands up and Evan smiled, turning over his pieces.

“W-wanna play again? I-I’ll kick your a-ass this time.”

Connor grinned, his teeth white like his mother’s, and agreed. Evan’s heart jumped his throat. He was happy that he could make his friend smile like that.

Chapter Text

Connor leaned against the headboard of his bed, rubbing his eyes with probably more pressure than necessary in an attempt to wake himself up. He didn’t have to look at the clock next to him to know that it was 6:30am. The tech’s came into their rooms at the same time every morning, turning on lights and looking tired themselves but putting on a cheery voice.

 

Connor groaned.

 

Connor had never been a morning person, or even an early afternoon person. He preferred the groggy one o’clock awakenings where everyone was already doing their own thing and he didn’t have to worry about his family trying to make plans with him.

 

Now, he had no choice but to plan his weekends because he had passes. It’s not that he wasn’t happy to get out of Sunstone for the day, it’s that he had to spend the entire thing with his family.

 

Mostly his mom. Connor, his mom, and Emily planned that on Saturday his dad wouldn’t be around so that Connor might have an easier first pass. He was relieved. He knew that if his dad was around, the entire day would be ruined because he would make some stupid insensitive comment about Connor trying to kill himself.

 

Even without his dad, the day would be exhausting. Lately, he didn't really feel like moving around. He missed the days where he could curl up under his covers for the day, contemplating how insignificant he was and sleeping in a deeply dissatisfying way. 

 

Once he had showered and brushed his teeth, Connor made his way to the community room where he spotted Evan at the back table, biting his lip and staring down at a notebook. His leg was shaking uncontrollably.

 

He threw himself into the chair next to his only friend, “Sup,” he tilted his chin toward Evan in greeting and then squinted at the notebook, “What’cha working on?”

 

Evan hummed, “Th-therapy assignment.”

 

Connor stared at him, waiting for his friend to elaborate more. Evan wasn’t always great at social cues, so when the boy started to look distressed by the fact that Connor hadn’t responded, he asked what the assignment was.

 

“I have to write these letters. Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be a good day and here’s why…”

 

Connor sat up and leaned forward, frowning at the page with nothing but the opening line written.

 

“I h-have trouble finding the good things in my day.”

 

“Here I’ll help.”

 

Connor snatched a red marker from the middle of the table and wrote on the rest of the page, in all caps: B/C I GET TO CHILL W/CONNOR MURPHY FUCK YEAH

 

Connor capped the marker and tossed it onto the table in front of him, smirking as he watched Evan blush a pleasing shade of pink and stammer through something incomprehensible.

 

“Don’t tell me you’re going to bail on the playdate our moms set up for us, Hansen.”

 

Evan folded the letter with shaking hands, “N-no! I want to. I- I think this is good enough for today’s letter. I-I’m not planning on doing anything else.” 

 

Connor laughed and wished he could see the look Evan’s therapist would have when she saw that letter, “Are you going to give it to your therapist? Does she read your letters?”

 

Evan nodded, “I-I hate writing them. I think too much and that’s like, the opposite of what they’re supposed to make me do. It’s supposed to be automatic or whatever. But I can’t really, like, n-not think.”

 

“Connor! Evan!” Dawn, the tech with the clipboards, was smiling at them too brightly for 7am, “I have your pass sheets, come check in with me when you’re done filling it out!”

 

Connor grabbed his and picked his red marker back up, filling it out quickly and handing it to Dawn, who had sat across the table and was now flipping through the papers on her clipboard. Connor still wanted to throw the damn thing.

 

“Great!” She gave it a glance over and Connor almost asked her to move somewhere out of earshot so that Evan can’t hear his check in or whatever. But his friend seemed to be anxiously writing paragraphs in the small boxes on the sheet and Connor is pretty sure he won’t hear anything anyway.

 

“So what challenges are you anticipating on pass?”

 

Connor wrinkled his nose, “I wrote it on the sheet.”

 

She nodded, “Yeah, but I want to talk more about it. Tell me why you think not being able to be alone is going to be a challenge.”

 

“Because I hate my family.” Connor’s voice was short. He didn’t want to talk about all this shit, he didn’t want to process or whatever, “It’s going to suck.”

 

“That sounds like forecasting to me. I’d like you to challenge that thought distortion.”

 

Connor groaned and rubbed his hands over his face, slumping back in his chair. He stared at the fluorescent lights in the ceiling until they started giving him a headache behind his eyes.

 

“I know you can challenge this thought.” Dawn was bringing out her firm voice, and if Connor was a normal person he would probably think about changing his attitude immediately. But no one would ever like him, no matter what he did to try to make them happy so he just kept staring at the lights.

 

“Whatever, I can’t predict the future, blah blah blah, I’m going to hang out with Evan. It will be good or whatever because we’re friends.”

 

“Forecasting can be dangerous because it can lead into self fulfilling prophecies.”

 

Connor knew she was going to go off about it, so he just kept staring while Dawn spoke.

 

“Take a test for example. You think, I’m going to fail this test no matter what. So you don’t study, and because you didn’t study, you actually fail. But that didn’t have to be the outcome. Your belief about the situation impacted the way you went about things and created the result you predicted in the first place.”

 

Connor sighed.

 

“So, if you go into this pass thinking there will be a fight with your family, or that your time in the park will suck, then all the bad things will pop out and you’ll convince yourself that the belief is true. Does that make sense?”

 

“Yeah it makes fucking sense.” Connor wanted to say more. He wanted to say that no matter what he did, every day sucked. Nothing could change that. His dad didn’t like him, he was a failure and that wasn’t a distortion, that was verbatim what Larry fucking said to him.

 

“You didn’t write any goals down. I think challenging two cognitive distortions you have while on pass would be a good one. I want you to keep practicing that skill.”

 

Connor shrugged, he really wanted this to be over, “Can we be done checking in?”

 

“I just want to go over your safety plan.”

 

“I’m not going to fucking kill myself.” Connor rolled his eyes. He wasn’t an idiot, it’s not as though he would have enough time alone (even if he could find something to do it with).

 

“What about self-harming?” She asked gently, but not too gently, which Connor was grateful for because when people talked to him like he was about to snap then he started feeling like throwing shit.

 

The first thing to go would be Dawn’s fucking clipboard.

 

“Fidgets. Talk to my mom. Draw on my arms instead. Hold ice.” Connor recited the things he talked about with his therapist in session. He didn’t know if he would actually be able to remember them or use them in the moment if things became too much.

 

Dawn nodded and began to write in the staff section on his sheet, “Those are great skills to use. Do you want to check in about anything else?”

 

“No.”

 

She smiled at him, “Okay, you’re good to go! Thanks for checking in with me, Connor.”

 

Connor didn’t say anything back, just began examining his nails and trying not to think about anything because he felt like the fucking breeze against his neck would set him off.

 

Evan and Dawn moved to the hallway to check in, which left Connor to himself as much as he could be by himself in this place. His nail polish was chipped. He frowned and wished that he had some here, but it wasn’t allowed. Probably because kids would huff it or drink it or some shit.

 

Sometimes Connor felt like he was losing the only parts of himself that, well, made him him. Nail polish shouldn’t be that fucking important. He crossed his arms on the table and buried his head in them.

 

He might as well shut his eyes until his mom got here and try not to think about how it could be possible for him to be alive and still fade to nothing.

Chapter Text

When his mom picked him up, she hugged him and Connor didn’t know if he wanted to push her away or cry. He was on edge, and things were really not clear on whether he was sad or angry. All he knew was that it was causing his stomach to turn and his skin to itch in a way that made him feel irritable as fuck.

 

“I was thinking we could get breakfast. There’s a little cafe not far from here with great Yelp reviews…”

 

Connor hated the hopeful look in her eyes. He didn’t respond, just leaned back in the seat, closed his eyes and hoped his mom got the message. His mom was really trying, and she deserved a son that could try harder. He could never do enough for them.

 

The car stopped and he held back a groan. They were definitely at the cafe.

 

“We’re here, sweetie.” She shook his shoulder and Connor gritted his teeth.

 

“I don’t want breakfast.”

 

“You need food, you look so thin these days.” His mom rubbed his shoulder and had a concerned frown on her face.

 

“I said I’m not hungry!” Connor lashed out, checking his shoulder a bit to get his mom’s hand off of him and then dropped his head into his hands, “Fuck. I didn’t mean to yell, can we just go home? I just...I’m having a bad day.”

 

The anger in his chest was too much. He needed to breathe but he knew he couldn’t. He wrapped his arms around himself.

 

He knew his mom’s eyes would be teary, so he didn’t look.

 

“Okay.” She breathed in deeply and restarted the car, “Okay, we can go home and you can rest.”

 

The car ride home was silent, and Connor stared out the window. He didn’t have anything to say, and if he did, it would probably be mean and rude and his mom was probably hoping to have a really good day with him where he would be better and he would want to spend time with her and he already fucked it up. God he was such a fucking screw up.

 

He cleared his throat and pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes again. He didn’t need to cry in the fucking car and make his mom more worried about him. He could feel her eyes looking at him every couple minutes already. He just wanted to go to bed.

 

When they arrived at the house his blood felt like molasses in his veins. He couldn’t have moved quickly even if he wanted to so he took a labored breath and shuffled into the house, his mom’s eyes following him like a hawk.

 

He couldn’t even imagine getting up the stairs to his room so he went to the living room and collapsed face down on the couch. Taking a deep breath, he allowed a couple tears to fall as he soaked in the somehow comforting scent of his house.

 

The couch dipped where his mom perched herself on the edge of the cushion. She ran her hands through his hair and her touch didn’t feel as abrasive this time.

 

“Tell me what you need, sweetheart. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”

His mom’s forgiving tone sent him spiraling into tears and he turned to bury his face into her side while he shuddered with emotion. He fucking hated crying.

 

“I’m sorry.” He choked, “Today was supposed to be good and it’s not. I’m still so angry and sad about everything.”

 

“You have nothing to be sorry for.” She wiped at his wet cheek, “You’re sick. It’s only been a few weeks, and they said it would take six for the meds to help.”

 

“I’m always so tired.”

 

“They said the constant exhaustion is common for bipolar depression. That’s why it didn’t go away with the SSRI’s, remember? We got a new medication. We’ll make this better. It’s okay.”

 

He hated his mom’s optimism. But he didn’t want her to give up on him either. He was really fucked up.

 

“I feel so out of control.”

 

“I know, baby.” She grabbed the throw from the back of the couch and placed it on top of him, “Why don’t you try to take a nap. It’s only 8:30.”

 

He sniffled and pulled the blanket up to his chin, letting his eyelids, heavy with tears, fall shut.

 

The last thing he remembered before falling asleep was his mom pressing a kiss to his forehead.

 

He doesn’t dream. He doesn’t really anymore, unless it’s a nightmare. Which is basically a summary of his entire life. Nothing, unless it fucking sucks. Which is probably mostly his own fault.

 

When his mom shakes his shoulder, he’s already awake, trying to force himself back to sleep. He opens his eyes and sits up with a yawn.

 

“We have to leave in a while to meet Heidi and Evan at the park. Are you feeling any better?”

 

Connor nodded, he didn’t feel as angry. His bones felt a little less like lead, “Yeah. A little bit.”

 

His mom smiled and handed him a mug, “I made you some tea. It’ll help you wake up.”

 

Connor was warm from his nap and didn’t feel much like eating or drinking anything. He wasn’t ever hungry recently, but he still had to eat. Everyone at Sunstone liked to remind him of that.

 

He took the mug from his mom, “Thanks. This is great.”

 

He took a sip and it was….actually pleasant. And calming. He took a bigger sip this time and his mom’s smile reached her eyes.

 

She sat down next to him and began folding the throw he’d used.

 

“So, Heidi and I were thinking that we could walk some of the trails at a park near here. I suggested Ellison Park, but Heidi didn’t think that was a good idea. It’s beautiful up there in the summer but she couldn’t be convinced.”  

 

“That’s where Evan tried to kill himself.” Connor offered up. His mom’s eyes widened and Connor wasn’t sure he should’ve said anything.

 

“Well,” His mom dropped her hands on the folded blanket, “That’s good to know. I’ll make sure not to suggest that park again.”

 

Connor nodded, “So we’re just going to….walk around?”

 

“It’ll be good for you two to get some fresh air. Exercise and sun exposure are really good for lifting mood. I mean, I know it won’t fix things. I...I guess when your dad didn’t want you to do therapy I was grasping at straws with those retreats. But just because it’s not a cure-all doesn’t mean it’s not important.”

 

Connor finished the rest of his tea, not responding to his mom. She’d always been into alternative stuff, alternative diets, alternatives to therapy and medications. He stopped trying to fight about it a long time ago.

 

His therapist also said the same things about exercise and sun though. So he didn’t really have grounds to call his mom a nutcase.

 

He’d actually said that before. Guilt crashed over him. Maybe he should say something, so she doesn’t think he feels that way about her.

 

Connor cleared his throat,“You’re right, mom. I think going outside more would help.”

 

She seemed to brighten and pulled him into a hug, “I’m proud of you for trying, Connor. Why don’t you go get ready and I’ll take care of your mug and grab my purse.”

 

He didn’t really have to do anything to get ready. He didn’t want to see his reflection right now, because he probably looked like shit and he didn’t have the energy to do anything about it.

 

Connor was feeling inexplicably nervous about seeing Evan outside of Sunstone. He tried to focus on the places where his shoes were worn out. Thinking about Evan was making his stomach feel weird.

Or maybe he was just hungry. He hadn’t eaten anything today.

 

“Alright, let’s go!” His mom guided him out the door and they got in the car, turning up the AC because the car felt like a fucking sauna.

 

Connor gazed out the window for a while and furrowed his brow when his mom pulled into the McDonald’s drive thru.

 

“You used to love McDonald’s. Do you still like it? We can go somewhere else, I just want you to eat something.”

 

Connor’s mom was going crazy. Cynthia never let them have fast food, not since she started the weird stuff with organic food and strange cheeses and all whole wheat, low fat products.

 

“What?” He really didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t entirely sure what was happening.

 

His mom sighed. She looked tired, older. It made Connor’s chest twinge.

 

“I want you to feel in control of something . I know I’ve been overbearing with the diet fads and I know you and Zoe hate them. So, you can eat what you want. As long as you are eating something and it meets your nutritional needs.”

 

Connor’s jaw dropped.  His mom looked dead serious, the crease between her eyebrows made him think she must have considered this for a while. He wondered if Zoe said something. Or if Emily did.

 

“Um, thanks. Can I have, um, 2 cheeseburgers and fries? And a chocolate milk.” He didn’t want to sound like he was taking advantage of his mom’s flexibility so he didn’t pick soda. She would probably be happy about the calcium. His mom was fucking weird sometimes.

 

Once they had food, Connor dug in. He was actually hungry now, and the food honestly helped him perk up a bit. He still didn’t know what normal people did at parks, because he usually used them to get high and that was definitely not happening today.

 

Connor saw Evan and his mom immediately when they got to the parking lot. Heidi was dabbing sunscreen on Evan’s face while he tried to flinch away and Connor tried to hold back a smile.

 

“Oh look, they’re here!” His mom sounded surprised, or maybe excited. 

 

Evan began to walk toward Connor but Heidi grabbed her son’s arm, “Don’t think you’re getting out of sunscreen. You burn so easily.”

 

Connor bet Evan would be blushing long enough that nobody would even notice a sunburn.

 

“Can I use some Mrs. Hansen?” Connor asked. Heidi immediately agreed and was soon applying his own while Evan tried to be discreet about watching him while fidgeting with the hem of his shirt.

 

Once he was done he turned to his friend, “So what do you do at parks? I don’t know what normal people do at parks.”

 

“I usually look at...at trees.”

 

“I usually get high. Sounds like we’re looking at trees.” Connor smiled, but he was sure it was twisted.

 

“My mom and I m-made conversation notecards.” Evan was blushing and it made Connor feel lighter. Evan was hilarious (and adorable).

 

Connor tried to seem nonjudgmental, like conversation cards were a totally normal thing to bring to a casual get together with your only friend, “Cool, what’s on them?”

 

“The first one is, um, music?”

 

Connor nodded, “I listen to pretty chilled out stuff. I really like Elliot Smith, and he had like, this mysterious and dramatic death.”

 

They walked into a clearing and picked a spot to sit in the grass, which had little yellow flowers interrupting the rich green grass.

 

“H-how did he die?” Evan’s voice was pitched a little higher than usual.

 

“They thought he might’ve been murdered. He was stabbed in the heart. Very crime of passion-ey, and he had just had a fight with his girlfriend. He was like, known for making sad music and being suicidal, though, so a lot of people thought he killed himself.”

 

“Oh.” Evan chuckled, “Stabbed in the h-heart is really dramatic.”

 

“But his music is really good. He sings about addiction and depression and some are kinda romantic in a sad way. I guess I relate to it a lot.” Connor lay down in the grass and Evan followed. He could hear their moms’ voices a few yards away, chatting.

 

“M-maybe I should listen to some of his music.” Evan commented, and Connor made a mental note to give Evan a list of his favorite songs.

 

“What do you listen to?” Connor asked, looking over at Evan, who was twisting and rolling his conversation cards in his hands. Evan laughed nervously again.

 

“I listen to like, lo-fi mixes? Sorry, it’s weird. But s-sometimes it helps my anxiety.”

 

Evan followed Connor’s example and laid down next to him. Connor looked over, appreciating the way Evan’s blond hair contrasted with the grass.

 

“I like that stuff too.” Connor bumped his shoulder into Evan’s and smiled at him, “So what’s next on the list?”

 

Evan lifted his cards and flipped to the next one, “The future.” Evan made a strange humming sound and then laughed nervously. The future was a touchy topic, and Connor was sure it was for Evan as well.

 

“I have trouble seeing a future for myself.” Connor let them lay in silence for a second. Evan was nodding, like he agreed. He cleared his throat, “But I always wanted to go to college.”

 

“M-me too. But it’s so expensive.”

 

Heidi and Cynthia walked over, “Hey boys, we should keep going. We want to get ice cream before we leave!”

 

Evan and Connor stood, brushing themselves off and finding the trail again.

 

Connor figured he could pick up where they left off.

 

“It always felt like I’d be able to be myself if I went to college. Maybe find a boyfriend or join a book club, find people like me. Nobody here gets me, or even tries. What do you want to do?”

 

“S-same, college would be cool. I always wanted to see the Appalachian trail.”

 

“I wanted to write a book. I used to write a lot.”

 

“I-It’s hard to want things again. I’ve wanted everything to g-go away for a l-long time. Oh my gosh!”

 

Evan walked quickly over to a bush and began picking things off of it. He jogged back over to Connor and held his hand out proudly, “Raspberries!”

 

“Can you eat them?”

 

“Yeah of course! They’re smaller because they aren’t cultivated or anything, but they’re perfectly fine.”

 

Connor grabbed a couple and Evan was grinning more than he’d ever seen. The raspberries were actually really good.

 

“These are awesome. I’m glad you know so much about plants.”

 

Evan blushed again, “Thanks.”

 

They walked in silence for a while, besides Connor occasionally pointing to a tree and asking what it was. It was actually really nice. The fresh air and talking to Evan was really lifting his mood.

 

They were soon out of the park and crossing the street to A la Mode. Evan’s hands began shaking again and Heidi pulled him aside.

 

“You can do this, honey! It’s okay if you stutter, all you have to do is say what you want and I’ll handle the rest.”

 

Evan made his little humming noise again and nodded for a long time. They all ordered, and Evan successfully stuttered out his order, which made Connor feel strangely proud, so he bumped his shoulder into Evan’s and smiled at him.

 

Evan looked down at his shoes and continued fidgeting with the worn hem of his shirt.

 

They got their ice cream and sat down outside with their moms, who were talking excitedly about meeting up sometime later in the week, sometimes pulling Evan and Connor into the conversation.

 

Evan was mostly quiet, and Connor could tell he was trying to focus on his breathing.

 

“Hey, Evan?”

 

“Y-yeah?” Evan’s blue eyes were wide and slightly panicked.

 

“We’ll get there someday, ya know? To the future things we talked about? When we get through this, we’ll do them together.”

 

Connor really hoped he could keep his promise. He was still ambivalent about living his life, but he wanted Evan to live his. So. Both of them could use some hope. 

 

“O-okay!”  

 

They smiled at each other and ate their ice cream until it was time to go. Their moms hugged goodbye and Connor put his hands in his pockets, unsure of what to do with them.

 

Evan broke the silence, “Th-thanks for hanging out today.”

 

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be, Evan. You’re, um, a good friend.”

 

“Y-You are too. See you later?”

 

Connor smirked at the question, they were going back to Sunstone. Of course they were going to see each other later. To someone else, Connor would probably roll his eyes and say that.

 

To Evan, he nodded and smiled.

 

“Yeah. See you later.”

Chapter Text

Connor’s dad and sister were in the car when his mom picked him up. They must be going out to breakfast at that cafe his mom found. Yesterday went way better than Connor expected, so maybe today would be okay - even if his dad was there.

 

Zoe actually smiled at him when he got into the backseat.

 

“Connor, are you hungry? We can pick something up before church if you want?” His mom turned back to look at him. No wonder his mom was dressed up so much. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone to church with his family.

 

“I’m not hungry” Connor grunted, “Do we have to go to church? Can’t you just drop me off at home?”

 

“Connor, you know we can’t leave you alone-“

 

“You could use more of God in your life, Connor. Maybe you could turn yourself around.”

 

Connor rolled his eyes, bitterness rising up his throat so fast he could taste it on the back of his tongue, “I am trying . I just don’t think God has ever helped me and I don’t think he’s about to start now.”

 

“Connor, don’t say that-“ his mom’s voice was strained. Zoe was staring out the window.

 

“Why not? It’s the fucking truth!” He crossed his arms and scowled.

 

“This discussion is over. We are all going.” His dad’s tone told him he’d be getting nowhere fast with this argument so he grumbled and tried not to fight anymore. He knew his mom wanted this day to go well. He focused on counting his breaths.

 

It made his anger a bit more manageable. But every time he looked at Larry he wanted to fucking punch something.

 

They pulled up to the church that Connor remembered, the communions and Sunday school and youth groups. He probably hadn’t been there since he was 13. He didn’t want to go inside.

 

He did it anyway, mostly because he didn’t have much of a choice. They moved through to the middle pews so they weren’t in the front nor the back. Connor recognized some of the people but didn’t make eye contact. The last thing he needed was to have his cheeks pinched by his mother’s pastel friends.

 

He sat down and stared at his shoes. He didn’t know what to do or say while his parents were socializing and he was just waiting for mass to begin.

 

Zoe pulled the kneeler out and turned to him, “Do you want to pray with me?”

 

Connor felt uncomfortable. There was a time where he and Zoe always prayed together before mass, deciding beforehand what they were going to pray for. Usually it was candy or a new toy or for their bedtime to be extended.

 

Connor didn’t know if he had anything to pray for.

 

“Zoe, I don’t even know what I would say,”

 

“It’s fine, just, just think or whatever. I just, we used to do this together. I know you’re mad but...please?”

 

He nodded, Zoe’s sad yet hopeful eyes removed any semblance of fight he had left. Now he was just resigned to the fact that he would have to endure two hours of this shit and eat a nasty ass cracker that stuck to the roof of his mouth at the end.

 

He kneeled next to his sister and closed his eyes, raising his palms up toward the ceiling. God, this felt weird. He didn’t know what to think, he didn’t know what he wanted, if he wanted anything, from God. Fuck. He couldn’t do this.

 

When everything was falling apart and he couldn’t stop punching walls or threatening his sister or feeling fucking depressed for no reason, he had called on God. He had fucking cried himself to sleep kneeling next to his bed, praying for the fucking demon inside of him to get out.

 

Why had he been abandoned? Fuck being given only challenges he could overcome. He couldn’t do it, that’s why he tried to kill himself three fucking times. He had prayed for the pain to end and the anger and sadness and hurt to go away.

 

He didn’t fucking ask to get sick. Nothing happened when he was 12 to make him suddenly start hating himself, suddenly start thinking about death and coming up with ways to kill himself.

 

He thought he was being punished but he didn’t know why. Maybe he was just bad and God knew it, and now he was being punished and it would never end unless he ended it himself. And then he would be tortured in Hell for eternity. He couldn’t fucking win.

 

He lost hope. He didn’t understand how people could keep their blind faith, keep hoping and praying even when everything continues to fall to shit. Did his mom and dad pray for him? Did they wonder if Connor was fucked up so badly that not even God could help him?

 

He couldn’t be saved. He hadn’t been saved. Not when he was asking God for help.

 

Either God didn’t exist or he was a fucking asshole.

 

Connor wanted so badly for something to exist. To help him through, to love him unconditionally no matter what, love him when his dad couldn't. God was supposed to do that, to help him find his way when he was lost.

 

He actually might want to find his way through his depression and shit this time.

 

If there was any time for God to show up, it would be now.

 

Connor prayed.

 

Please...pleasepleaseplease pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease

 

A hand on his shoulder jolted him out of his prayer and he looked up at his mom, suddenly feeling the tears on his cheeks and his ragged breathing and she pulled him up into a hug. How long had he been crying? Whatever. His dad didn’t seem to notice and that’s mostly what matters.

 

The service was starting so he hurriedly swiped the tears from his cheeks and zoned out, thinking about what the fuck just happened.

 

He hadn’t like, lost himself in prayer in years. Not that Connor praised God in his meditation. He actually kinda indicted the guy for fucking abandoning him but whatever. He felt a little more grounded than he did before, though, which was nice.

 

The service passed slowly, and Connor spent a lot of it zoning out. He wanted to get out of here so he could nap again and paint his nails and maybe hang out with Zoe if she’s around.

When they pulled up to the house, Connor hopped out of the car and gave no input into his mom asking about what everyone wanted for brunch. Connor was actually a little bit hungry, but he didn’t really care.

 

Once he was in the house, he ran up to his bedroom. He hadn’t been in his room for weeks and he smiled and collapsed on his bed. It was just as comfortable as he remembered, he turned to his bedside table.

 

“Fuck yeah,” he mumbled and grabbed his phone, which (thank the lord) had been plugged into the charger. He untangled his earbuds and opened Spotify, ignoring the few concerned text messages he had.

 

They were pretty much all from Alana Beck. He didn’t remember ever trading phone numbers with her.

 

With a sigh, he put on some lo-fi and closed his eyes. He drifted off into a light sleep until Zoe was poking at his shoulder. He sat up, disoriented, “What? Oh.”

 

“Mom and dad want you to come down for lunch. Brunch was nixed when mom came upstairs and you were asleep.”

 

“Oh.” Connor paused his music and stretched, “I’ll be down in a minute.”

 

“Is this going to be a disaster?” Zoe asked, “Are you in a bad mood?”

 

Connor shrugged, “Not really. But Larry is Larry, so no promises.”

 

Zoe didn’t respond, just reminded him that it better be an actual minute or Larry was going to throw a fit. Connor took the hair tie Zoe gave him off his wrist and pulled his hair back.

 

He quickly washed his face, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and avoiding looking at the bathtub where he’d made his second attempt. He wondered what his family saw when they looked at the tub.

 

He hadn’t ever seen Zoe enter this bathroom since the night she found him.

 

It was fuzzy. He remembered looking up and seeing her blurry face, she had been speaking but Connor didn’t know what she’d been saying to him. He didn’t really want to know. Knowing that Zoe was still shaken by that experience is what made him bring the pills to the park.

 

He’d thought it was the last nice thing he could do for his sister. That she wouldn’t see his death.

 

It was a pretty fucked up thought.

 

He tried to shake the thoughts from his head as he entered the dining room and took his usual seat at the table.

 

They started the meal in silence, but it wasn’t filled with tension, which was a welcome change from pretty much every family meal they had before Sunstone.

 

“How was your nap, Connor?” Cynthia asked, reaching over to brush non existent lint from his shoulder.

 

Connor swallowed his bite of (surprisingly good) pasta salad, “Good. It was nice to be in my own bed again.”

 

“You’ll be home soon enough, sweetheart.”

 

Connor looked up at his dad, who seemed to be keeping himself from contributing to the conversation. The topic dropped, and his mom switched gears, asking Zoe about her plans for the coming week.

 

Connor noted that most of Zoe’s plans involved Alana Beck, who was the one person that seemed to notice that Connor had disappeared for the last couple weeks of the school year.

 

“Are- uh, you and Alana close?” Connor asked, and Zoe seemed surprised. She was probably surprised that Connor was actually listening. Honestly, he was too.

 

“Yeah. We’re friends.”

 

“Did you tell her what happened? She’s sent me a bunch of texts. I didn’t even know she had my number.”

 

Zoe’s nose scrunched up in the way it did when she was thinking, “No. I haven’t said anything, just that you were sick for the last couple weeks of school. She asked if she could drop off your missed work.”

 

“Oh.” Connor stared at his empty plate.

 

“What did she say?”

 

Connor shrugged, “I didn’t read them. The first one just said ‘It’s Alana Beck from school’.”

 

Zoe hummed and stacked her empty glass onto her plate, “You should message her back. She’s nice.”

 

Connor tucked a loose strand of his hair behind his ear, “I guess. I don’t really know what I would say.”

 

“I’ll help,” Zoe offered, “Maybe you two could be friends, I mean, she doesn’t have very many and she’s not judgmental. I’ve never heard her say anything bad about you.”

 

Something uncomfortable twisted in Connor’s stomach and he regretted eating so much because now he felt sick.

 

“You two kids can go, I’ll clean up here.”

 

“Go get your phone.” Zoe ordered as they stood from the table, “I’m going to grab my nail polish. Your nails are chipped.”

 

“Black.” Connor said, a little sharply. He winced at the sound of his own voice. He just couldn’t seem to get rid of his underlying frustrations. He knew Zoe didn’t tease him about his black nail polish to make fun of him.

 

Zoe lifted her hands in surrender, “Okay, no other colors. But I still think red would suit you.”

 

Connor gave her a twisted smile as they walked up the stairs, “Red? Over my dead body.”

 

Zoe stalled outside her room and looked at him with wide eyes. Oh fuck. He fucked up.

 

“Don’t say that. Please.”

 

“Fuck Zoe, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way, it’s just-” He really needed to think about what he was saying. He didn’t even think about how his sister would be affected by a stupid phrase. Fuck.

 

She took a deep breath, and Connor thought it was a little bit shaky, “It’s an expression. I know.” Her words were slow, maybe careful, “But, not now. Not after…”

 

“Okay, yeah. Fuck. Sorry.”

 

“It’s okay. Meet me in the living room, I need to get my stuff put together.”

 

He rushed over to his bed and picked up his phone, shoving it into his pocket. His heart was beating in his chest and he closed his eyes. breathe, breathe, it was an accident.

 

He didn’t mean to hurt Zoe, but he always did. He couldn’t fucking stop hurting people, even when he was doing everything not to. He stopped himself from fighting with his dad over church, and he didn’t mention how his dad barely looked at him at lunch.

 

Connor was making an effort, he was trying to reconnect, but every time he tried it was like there was a giant rift that he couldn’t cross or get rid of.

 

Maybe he just wasn’t meant to have people, wasn’t meant to love or have people love him.

 

His skin itched, his blood was burning in his veins and tears were burning in his eyes. He knew where he had a blade hidden in here. He could use it, just to numb out a little bit before trying to sit with Zoe and pretend everything was alright.

 

He was reaching for his broken alarm clock when Zoe poked her head into his room, “Hey, you coming?”

 

Connor cleared his throat and stood, “Yeah, sorry. I got distracted.”

 

They relocated to the living room and they sat on the floor on opposite sides of the coffee table. Zoe placed a bottle of black nail polish in front of him.

 

“So what did Alana say?”

 

Connor pulled his phone from his pocket and opened the messages, reading them aloud to his sister.

 

May 18, 4:07pm: Hi Connor. This is Alana Beck.

May 18, 4:07pm: I noticed you haven’t been in school for a couple days. I could grab your homework if you want?

May 20th 6:52am: It’s no big deal if you don’t want me to.

May 20th 6:54am: Sorry, that sounded passive aggressive. I meant that I understand if you can’t focus on school at the moment.

May 22nd 3:35pm: I know we aren’t close acquaintances but if you want to talk I’m here

May 22nd 3:35pm: I’ve volunteered as a peer counselor before

May 23rd 7:04am: Zoe’s been gone for a few days. Is everything okay?

June 5th 3:01: Happy summer! Maybe you, Zoe, and I could hang out sometime!



Connor started to type, but couldn’t get much further than hey alana, before stopping.

 

“What should I say?”

 

“Well, how much do you want her to know? You should thank her, though. She’s been asking about you.”

 

“Okay.” Connor typed some more, thanks for offering to help. zoe said you’ve been worried, but im okay. Send.

 

you could maybe visit me with zoe sometime if u want. Send.

 

A text came back almost immediately, Glad to hear you’re okay! I’ll definitely come to visit, I’ll set it up with Zoe.

 

He didn’t know how to respond so he didn’t. Connor put his phone facedown on the table and focused on painting his nails. He and Zoe sat in comfortable silence until their father’s heavy footsteps came down the hall, “Still painting your nails? I thought you said you were trying, Connor.”

 

Zoe’s head snapped up and Connor focused on applying his top coat. He didn’t look at his dad, he would lose his shit if he looked at his dad right now.

 

“I am. What does painting my nails have to do with it?” His voice was tight, he knew it. He knew this was going to end badly because he just baited his dad into one of his tirades about how Connor was a shitty son.

 

“Because you’re still making yourself look all depressed! The hair, nails, black grunge clothes? You need to man up, you need to stop trying to be a goddamn rebel and get your act together! You’re seventeen!”

 

Connor slammed the clear polish onto the table and stood, “Right, because painting nails is obviously a symptom of depression. I can’t just like having my nails painted?”

 

“It was cute when you were a kid and liked to play with Zoe, but it’s not cute anymore! It’s time for you to grow up, Connor! No more “bipolar” mood swings, no more sleeping all day, it’s about time we enforce expectations in this house.”

 

Connor clenched his fists at his sides, trying to focus on the way his nails dug into his palms. Stay in control, stay in control. He heard his mom’s quick footsteps entering the room. He begged her to say anything, anything to distract from the rage turning his face red and making his blood feel hot, burning and burning him. His own body was hell.

 

“You can’t make up dumb fucking rules and hope they change me! Taking my door and taking my car and invading my privacy never fixed anything!” Connor spat, turning toward his dad, who was crossing his arms and frowning.

 

Connor hated that expression on his dad's face, hated that it hadn’t changed since he was 12, “It’s not my fault you didn’t get the perfect fucking son you obviously wanted.”

 

Ha avoided his mother’s gaze, avoided looking at Zoe, because he was already fucking mad at everything and he didn’t need to hate himself any more than he already did, “I will never be what you wanted, Larry, you could rip my fucking nails off if you want but that’s not going to erase the fact that I’m a fuck up who you’re embarrassed to call your kid.”

“Connor, be realistic, you can change your act. Stop hiding behind excuses, admit your mistakes. You can’t blame it all on being bipolar.”

 

He walked toward his dad, moving so they were toe to toe, Connor staring him directly in the eye. Since when were they the same height? Connor had always felt so small next to his father.

 

“Fuck you. Fuck you for not ever believing that maybe something is actually wrong. Did you ever consider that maybe I actually wanted to fucking die when I tried to kill myself? I never asked to be alive, I never asked to be saved and I definitely never asked for your fucking approval.”

 

Connor stalked up the steps and toward his room, shaking, and upon realizing he didn’t have a door to slam, he screamed in frustration and punched the wall, and it caved beneath his fist. His knuckles smarted but he didn’t fucking care. He wanted all the feeling to go away, he couldn’t handle all the anger and disappointment and self-hatred. With shaking hands he opened the battery pack of his broken alarm clock and pulled out the razor he’d hidden there.

 

He could hear his parents’ voices downstairs, his mom’s wavering like she was crying and his dad’s stern and filled with conviction.

 

Tearing apart his bookshelf, he finally found his hollowed out teen bible. He grabbed a joint he’d rolled a while back and his lighter. Then he locked himself in the bathroom, leaning against the bathtub.

 

“He’s trying Larry! What happened to not bringing this up? We’re supposed to meet him where he’s at, that’s what the therapist said!”

 

“I don’t care! He’s my son and I know what’s best for him!”

 

“He wants to die, Larry! I don’t think you’ve known what’s best for him in a long time!”

 

Connor put the blunt in his mouth and lit it, taking a long drag. He just needed it to stop. He needed his heart to stop pounding in his chest, needed to forget his dad’s words and his mom’s tears and the way he could hear his blood rushing in his ears.

 

He smoked until his hands stopped shaking enough for him to grab the small razor blade and pull his sleeve up.

 

God, it felt good. It felt so good to feel the tension and stress leave his body with his blood. He just wanted to feel numb. He was sick of feeling his emotions, he hated it, and his stupid therapist wanted him to do it all the time.

 

He didn’t want to care. If he was numb, he was better at not caring. His dad’s disappointment and angry words didn’t hurt as much if he was numb.

 

Connor stopped crying, just focused on smoking and cutting and ignoring the yelling from downstairs and Zoe’s loud music. She always turned it up when their parents fought.

 

The voices downstairs stopped and Connor swore, pulling his sleeves down and exiting the bathroom after tossing the last dredges of his blunt out the window. He collapsed in his bed just as his parents turned the corner of the steps and entered his bedroom.

 

“Great, it smells like pot up here. He’s really trying, Cynthia. Therapy is obviously working.”

 

“Larry, just stop. Connor, we have to go. You have to be back at 4:30 and we’re already running late.” She looked so fucking sad. Her eyes were wet and red with tears.

 

Connor would have felt sad if he wasn’t so fucking empty.

 

It was better this way. He held the sleeves of his black sweater down so his mom wouldn’t see the rest of what he’d done. Everything was blurry around the edges, the rest of the world disappeared when he was high and he could just exist. Exist without the pain, without the bad emotions.

 

They didn’t speak on the car ride back.

 

When his mom was signing him in, she told the tech taking him about what happened. He played with his sleeves. He let his mom pull him into a hug, which was too tight.

 

“Oh, Connor. Oh, baby I’m so sorry. I love you.”

 

Connor nodded, “Love you too, mom. I’m sorry for being such a fuck up.”

 

“You’re not. We all love you.”

 

He looked down and shuffled over to the tech, who was not Dawn, and Connor couldn’t remember their name. He wasn’t planning on greeting them anyway.

 

“I’m going to bring you to nursing. Someone will sit with you one-to-one until you’re sober enough to rejoin the community.”

 

Connor didn’t say anything, just followed them into the exam room where he was asked to change into a gown so they could make sure he didn’t bring anything into the facility. He couldn’t blame them.

 

Anne, the nurse he liked, didn’t gasp or become upset when she saw his bleeding arms.

 

“Well, we better get these cleaned up. None of them appear to need stitches, but they aren’t superficial by any means. Were you trying to kill yourself, Connor?”

 

“No.” He answered, his own voice sounding far away, “I just needed to not feel anymore.”

 

“How much did you smoke?”

 

Connor shrugged, “Hard to say.”

 

She nodded and Connor wondered how she was so calm and collected. He was a fucking mess, sitting in nothing but a gown, arms sliced open and eyes red and heavy. He probably smelled like weed because he hotboxed the fucking bathroom.

 

“What happened to your hand? It’s bruised.”

 

“Oh.” Connor had forgotten about it, “I punched a wall. It broke.”

 

Laughter suddenly bubbled out of him and he couldn’t control it. Something about the wall caving in, and the image of his dad patching it up with a scowl was hilarious. He wrapped the arm Anne wasn’t working on around his ribcage and tried to control his laughter, but he couldn’t.

 

He couldn’t control it, it was weird. He felt euphoric, which was strange, because he wasn’t happy. He hadn’t laughed this hard in a long time.

 

“Connor, take some deep breaths.” He tried, but laughter kept bursting from his chest against his will.

 

Unexpectedly, it began to turn to sobs and Anne was rubbing his back and whispering comforting things that he wasn’t comprehending. Once he had a semblance of control, she brought him to his room where he collapsed on the bed.

 

It wasn’t like his bed at home, but he couldn’t be sad about it now because he was fucking ripped, so he just curled up and closed his eyes.

 

He fell asleep.

 

He still didn’t dream.

Chapter Text

His arms were crossed as he sat in his therapists office. He knew why he was here. He was here because he came back from pass high as fuck and with arms sliced up like they were fucking lunch meat.

 

“Connor, what happened this weekend?” Emily’s tone was non-judgmental, open. Connor hated it. Hated himself. Hated Emily.

 

“I went home and it was the same as I left. Nothing has changed, I’m not a different fucking person just because I make posters about how to fucking breathe. Therapy isn’t going to make me a new fucking person.”

 

He brought his legs up and hunched his shoulders. He didn’t want to talk.

 

“Okay. I want you to know that we aren’t trying to make you a different person, we’re trying to help the real Connor come out.”

 

Connor looked up at her, and he knew his face was cold and mean. Mean . He was a mean person.

 

“I’m angry and depressed, and I’m a fuck up - a - a disappointment. I’m a fucking addict, a freak with long hair and painted nails. Those things don’t change when I leave here.”

 

Emily’s eyes were sympathetic, “Those statements sound a lot like what other people say about you.”

 

“Yeah.” Connor scowled, “But they’re right. I-I’m, I guess if I’m not those things….then I’m not anything.”

 

“I think we should talk about identity a bit more, Connor. Identities can be helpful and important, but making them absolute and unchanging, that’s not fair to you.”

 

A heavy silence settled over the room and he didn’t want to say anything. He didn’t think anything or anyone had been fair to him.

 

Emily seemed to recognize that he wasn't going to respond to what she said, “You had interests and relationships and a personality before all of this. Right now, all the other stuff is in control. You can take back your control.”

 

Connor threaded his hands through his hair and shut his eyes tightly, hoping that the twinging sensation of oncoming tears would go away, “I was trying. I always feel out of control, I make my parents fight. The smoking and cutting - they help.

 

“I know. At the end of the day, self-harm is survival. I get that. But it’s not a healthy coping mechanism. I get that it feels safe and easy to use those symptoms to calm down. But if you keep practicing -”

 

The therapists always went back to the same fucking things, he hated their broken record speak,

“Yeah, skills. Whatever. No matter what I’ll still be a depressed addict, even if I can learn to fake it most of the time.”

 

She nodded and switched gears, “Let’s talk about your substance use a little bit more.”

 

Her tone let him know this was territory he wouldn’t be able to avoid.

 

He didn’t want to tell her about it, “You have my records. I’m sure you’ve read them.”

 

Therapists were fucking nosy.  

 

“All I know is that you went to rehab, and that you’re still using cannabis at this time. I wanted to hear the rest from you.”

 

Connor looked up in surprise, how had she not read all about it? He dropped his knees and suddenly felt himself open up, but he didn’t know why. He didn’t like talking about it. But something about Emily’s calm demeanor and deliberate effort to hear his side of things got through his defenses.

 

The knots in his stomach unwound and he felt like he could finally breathe, like he had a change to be heard because Emily was still looking at him, leaning forward, all her focus and empathy and caring radiating toward him.

 

“Um. I guess it started my freshman year. When I was fourteen. I went to a party. I really wanted friends and thought if I went I would be, cool, or something.”

 

“What happened at the party?”

 

He worried his lip for a moment, “I had a drink, but I didn’t like it. I must have made a face. Some older kid came up to me and handed me some pills. He said they were much better than alcohol.”

 

She finished the story for him, “And you took them.”

 

Connor nodded, “It was like, all the pain went away. I felt light and happy, and I hadn’t been happy in so long .”

 

Tears began to pool in his eyes and Emily became blurry. She pushed a box of tissues toward him and he grabbed it, wiping at his eyes and nose.

 

“It got out of control really fast. I wanted more, right away, so I found the guy at school and asked for some. He gave me some for free, as a favor.”

 

He began tearing at a tissue, breaking it into strips and rolling it between his fingers, Emily wasn’t saying anything, so he continued, “He was nice to me, let me sit with him at lunch and go to the park with his friends when they smoked.”

 

“Is that the first time you used cannabis?”

 

Connor nodded, “It was fun, I liked having friends and they wanted to be around me and I hadn’t really had that before.”

 

“How was your depression?”

 

“Worse. Every time the high wore off, it got worse and I went to him for more. He told me I needed to start paying and I did. I used all my savings, and I stole from my parents and Zoe.”

 

“I went to more parties, because people would just hand you things. I- the money didn’t last long. My parents cut everything off. They were worried, they knew I was getting high.”

 

“Is that when you went to rehab?”

 

He shook his head, “No. Not until I, I tried to kill myself. Everyone thought it was an accidental overdose, but I was sick of it. I felt sick …”

 

He pulled his legs back into the chair and hugged them to his chest. He didn’t want to talk about this anymore. The memories were coming back, and he didn’t want to think about them but they wouldn’t stop coming.

 

“Connor, what’s coming up right now?”

 

“I feel sick. I can’t stop the m-memories.”

 

“Memories of what?”

 

You have such a pretty mouth, baby. Why don’t you join us in here, we’ve got Oxy’s, I’ll give you enough to last you a couple months.

 

Connor could hear himself hyperventilating, he could feel himself shaking and Emily was pressing something into his hands. It was another ice pack. In the back of his head he wondered where she kept getting them.

 

“You don’t have to talk about it now, Connor. It’s okay. I'll still be here when you feel ready.”

 

“N-no. I want to. I-it was my fault anyway. I got so hooked - I was sick if I wasn’t high. It was so bad when I wasn’t high. And I thought, it’s not a big deal, you like guys and th-they like you...”

 

“Whatever happened wasn’t your fault, Connor. It wasn’t your fault and I need you to know that.”

 

The tears were coming fast now. He couldn’t stop them and he was sobbing into his knees, “I-I agreed because I needed the pills. I was already high, but I needed more. A-and I wasn’t even scared until it was over and I- I walked home.”

 

“What happened then?”

 

“I-I took all of them. I felt so empty, and being high didn’t change anything about how I felt. So I took all of them and I felt so free. I remember thinking finally, finally it’s over

 

He rubbed his eyes, “After that my memory fades in and out. I remember crawling up the sidewalk to my house. I couldn’t open the door.”

 

Emily is nodding along, her eyes concerned and caring. Connor doesn’t want to look at them anymore because he doesn’t deserve that. He’s the one that fucked up at every fucking turn.

 

“I remember vomiting, and my mom yelling for my dad. Saying it was different this time, that she thought I overdosed.”

 

“And they didn’t know it was intentional.”

 

He shook his head, “No. I came home really fucked up all the time. They took care of me a lot. Now I don’t think they can see me as anything else but a fucking addict.”

 

More fucking tears, he ripped more tissues out of the box and roughly wiped at his face and neck, which was getting damp now because he was a fucking mess.

 

“Have you taken pills since rehab?” Emily asked, and he knew this was part of some sort of required assessment, like when she asked him if he had a plan to kill himself, if he could access that plan, and if he could keep himself safe. Those were always the same questions, no matter where he was - the hospital, here, the guidance counselor’s office at school.

 

He shook his head, “I just smoke now. Drinking always makes me suicidal for like, days. And the point of getting fucked up is to stop feeling that way. Y'know?”

 

She nodded, and Connor appreciated that she believed him about the pills. Her serious demeanor didn’t change, “Are there any other suicide attempts you haven’t told me or your parents about, Connor?”

 

“No, no. Will you… not tell them about the first overdose?”

 

“I’ll let you tell them when you’re ready.” Her voice was assuring, and Connor knew she could trust her, “What’s keeping you from telling them?”

 

“I don’t want them to know how fucked up I am. I don’t mean to hurt people, but I always do. My mom - she really wants it to work this time.”

 

“You’re a very caring person, Connor. You deserve to be cared for, too. I think if you let your family see the real you - all the struggles and the caring, they would still be there for you.”

 

Connor shook his head and gave an empty laugh, “The less they know about me, the better. I-if they knew who I really am, I’d be even more of a disappointment. It would be easier for everyone if I died the first time.”

 

If he recovered, if somehow he decided that he wouldn’t kill himself after leaving here, they would see him. See that the “true” Connor wasn’t who they thought he was.

 

He would never make his dad or his family happy. Not with the person he was underneath it all. He hated that person, that unlovable, disgusting person. He didn’t want to tell Emily about it yet. About how he was different, different in a way that was wrong .

 

His parents thought there could be a better, normal Connor underneath. He knew there wasn’t.

 

“Earlier you said you would never be more than a depressed addict, but we both know there’s more than that. You know who you really are.”

 

“I hate who I really am. I - I don’t want anyone to know, I wish I didn’t know.” Connor suddenly felt the way his hair fell against his neck and onto his shoulders. He carried his hair like it was a secret, a secret people didn’t know was right in front of them.

 

“I’m getting the impression that holding onto being depressed, or being an addict,  keeps you and others from acknowledging the real Connor. I feel like you’re hiding, or maybe even protecting you, from yourself.”

 

He wanted her to stop saying things like that. He didn’t want here those things out loud, things that he already knew but sounded so much sadder, so much worse and desperate and ugly when said out loud.

 

He took a ragged breath in and sobbed into his knees and Emily let him cry and sob for a while, telling him to let it out and that it was good to cry when he needed to.

 

Once he calmed down enough to breathe and talk more, Emily made them write a self-care plan for the rest of the day which he knew he probably wouldn’t follow because he just wanted to sleep and block out the rest of the world. He felt so fucking empty and tired and maybe even a little bit lighter.

 

“Our session is over, Connor, but I’m here until six if you need me. For next time I want you to journal about the parts of yourself you’re hiding, the parts you’re afraid of facing.”

 

He probably wasn’t going to do it.

 

Emily added to the assignment, “I’d also like you to touch on what you liked and who you were when things weren’t as bad. And I want you to write about who you would want to be if the anger and depression and mania were under control.”

 

He nodded, sure that if he did that assignment he would go spiraling back into the depths of misery. Right now he was barely able to keep his head above water. And it was a precarious situation.

 

Connor returned to the community room irritated and still crying. At this point he wasn’t even embarrassed if people saw his tears. Everyone cried in this place. He collapsed on one of the couches and buried his face in his arms. He wanted to just be alone.

 

“H-hey. Are you okay?”

 

“Obviously I’m not fucking okay.” He snapped, and he couldn’t find it in him to feel bad, “I’m not really in a mood to talk right now, Evan.” He had talked with Emily for an hour, he was done fucking talking.

 

“O-okay. Sorry.”

Silence fell over the two of them and he felt relieved, he focused on his breathing and he knew he would feel bad about snapping at his friend later but right now he just wanted to relax and think about his session with Emily.

 

It had gone better than he thought it would. He’d been sure that Emily would be angry and disappointed and tell him he needed to work harder because what he did was unacceptable.

 

But she said she understood, understood that it was survival and that he was hurting. And he was, hurting. He was hurting so much.

 

The rest of the night passed quickly, he and Evan orbiting around each other but not talking. He could practically feel Evan vibrating anytime he got close, and Connor still didn’t want to talk. So he didn’t.

 

As they passed each other at the nurses station on their way to bed, Evan held out a folded piece of paper. Connor took it, and Evan immediately darted away.

 

Connor sat up in bed and unfolded it, ignoring the conversation his roommates were having. He never really talked to them. At this point they happily ignored each other.

 

Dear Connor Murphy,

 

Today definitely wasn’t a good day for you. I don’t think yesterday was either because your arms are wrapped and that probably means something happened. I’m sorry I talk so much, I get nervous but I still want to be friends if you still want to be friends? I had a really good time on Saturday. I hope you feel better soon.

 

Sincerely,

 

Me

 

Connor read through the letter multiple times, and he wanted to feel something, but he felt hollow. He carefully folded the letter and grabbed his composition book and put it in the back. He’d revisit it later.

 

Now, he just wanted to sleep. If he was asleep he didn’t have to think about anything at all.

 

Unexpected emotion welled in his throat for a moment and he shoved his face into his pillow. God, how fucking sad was it that he would rather choose nothing at all? He never thought the other side would be better. He always thought it would be nothing, finally, there would have been nothing at all.


Chapter Text

Larry came home from work late, since he knew that his wife was going to a mother’s support group hosted by Sunstone. They had originally planned to visit Connor together later in the week, but after Sunday she hinted that he should stay back. His chest was hollow, so much space beneath his ribs for exhaustion to build up. He felt like both his son and his wife were pushing him away and he had so little energy to fight it.

 

Without his family in the house, he went to his office and sat at his desk. He felt like he was becoming his own father, distant and picking battles sparingly, most of which wouldn’t make much of a difference in the lives of his family. His own father had been a hard man, and becoming invulnerable and closed off - that didn’t sit well with him. Becoming his own father was the last thing he meant to do when he and Cynthia brought their children into the world.

 

He wanted to teach them the same lessons, show them they could do anything and become anything because just a couple generations ago, the Murphy family had next to nothing.

 

Larry’s father had lectured him on this subject often, about hard work and achievement. They had something to prove when they moved to the city. His dad got rid of his drawl, but Larry would sometimes hear it again when he listened to his dad compliment and say sweet things to his mother. It would come back when he was angry, too.

 

Larry’s father was an angry man. Always had something to prove, and Larry always had the feeling that he was part of that proof. If Larry was successful, then his dad won. He had learned to stop playing in the mud, to stay inside and learn so he was best in his class.

 

These city slickers aren’t the only ones with brains, Larry. You need to try harder.

 

Murphy’s don’t quit, Larry, you’re going to keep playing basketball and you’re going to be the best on that team. It doesn’t matter if you like something or not, you have to keep trying to be the best.

 

And he did. There was no question in Larry’s mind that hard work was part of life, and if you worked harder, things would improve. Every time things were hard, in law school, in his relationships, at work - Larry powered through.

 

Larry was a successful lawyer, he provided his family with more than they needed. The hard work, worked . His father never said the words I’m proud of you but Larry thought he did well. He provided his family with more than his parents had provided him - and that seemed to be what his father wanted.

 

His own father hadn’t been the most affectionate, but Larry hadn’t ever doubted his philosophy.

 

Until now. Until he tried to teach those same lessons in the same way and they didn’t work.

 

He thought it would just take time to teach Connor, who had always been a sensitive kid. But now his son was angry, so very angry and troubled.

 

Larry knew where his son got his anger, but he didn’t know where he got the lack of control. Every Murphy man he’d ever known had a strong grip on life and emotion. They were always in control, and he didn’t know how Connor fell out of it so easily.

 

He sometimes wanted to shake Connor, make him see how he was ruining his own life. But everytime he tried to get Connor to understand, his boy would yell and cry, or worse - get high or try to kill himself.

 

Larry didn’t know what to do with Connor anymore. He hadn’t done much but noncommittally agree with his wife on her decisions for over a year now. He just couldn’t engage, and it was too devastating to try. Every time he failed, he realized how much he hadn’t done, how much he’d failed his eldest.

 

No matter how much Connor believed that Larry hated him, he didn’t. He couldn’t ever. Maybe Connor hadn’t turned out the way he’d imagined - his boy preferred reading to sports. He used to follow Larry around and asking questions, saying he would be a lawyer one day, too, because you had to read a lot of books to be a lawyer and Connor wanted to read books for his job.

 

His son’s mind had always worked differently from his own. He never corrected his son, didn’t tell him that being a lawyer wasn’t about reading books, because Larry felt like he was walking on air every time Connor followed him around and said he wanted to be just like him.

 

Larry wasn’t sure if Connor read much anymore. He couldn’t remember the last time his son said he wanted to be like his dad.

 

Maybe he should have sat with Connor, read to him, instead of pushing him into sports and trying to play catch when the boy obviously didn’t want to.

 

Maybe Larry did try to change Connor. Maybe Connor was right when he said Larry wanted someone else’s son, that Connor wasn’t what he’d imagined for himself when the doctor first told them their baby was a boy.

 

His heart felt heavy in his chest as he turned to look at the corner where there used to be a card table covered with crayons and coloring sheets and it was like he could see his son, four years old, with his tongue poking out the side of his mouth as he concentrated on coloring inside the lines.

 

He could hear the way little feet pattered into the office when Larry worked late, Connor and Zoe climbing into his lap and saying they couldn’t go to bed without being tucked in by him.

 

When had Connor stopped going to Larry for protection? For comfort? For company?

 

He stared at the corner, wishing that things had been different. That he had been a better father, that he tried harder to stay relevant in the lives of his children.

 

He heard the door from the garage open, and Cynthia’s heels clacked down the hallway until his wife was in the door of his office. She looked so tired lately, so sad. Larry used to pride himself on being able to cheer her up.

 

He couldn’t seem to reach her these days.

 

“Larry. We have to talk.” Her voice didn’t waver, and that scared him. His heart stopped. She moved to sit across from him at the desk.

 

“I need you to try harder with Connor. I can’t do this alone. God, Larry, he’s so sick. He wants to die, and I need you to acknowledge that something is wrong .”

 

“If he tried to listen, if he changed his attitude - Cynthia, dear, he can learn -” He felt the emptiness of his own words. He didn’t believe them, he knew they weren’t true, but there was no alternative.

 

If his words weren’t true, then his son was broken, his son might suffer with this for the rest of his life and Larry wanted more than anything for Connor to be able to switch it all off. For him to see reason and all of the drugs and ambivalence and suicide attempts would go away.

 

“No!” She slammed her purse onto the desk, bottom lip trembling in anger, “The listening, the attitude changing, that has to come from you.

 

“Cynthia-”

 

“Don’t Cynthia me! Connor needs you, I need you . I feel like I am being torn apart trying to keep this family together.”

 

He wanted so badly to reach over and wipe the tears from her cheeks. To hold her hand, to tell her he feels it too, feels like their family could fall as easily as a Jenga tower. One wrong move, one thing going wrong - and it could all fall apart. He stopped trying because he didn’t want to be the one to pull the final piece.

 

“I’m sorry. I just - I don’t know how to be there for him. I - I never thought, can’t even start to understand, mental illness. It sounds like an excuse -”

 

“It’s not. This is what I’m trying to say, I need you to step up and read about it, change your attitude and try to see things like Connor sees things.”

 

She reached into her bag, “Look, I bought books that the therapist recommended. I’ve been reading them, and it helps. It helps to know that it isn’t just us, there’s hope, there are things we can do to help.”

 

Larry reached over and grabbed one, eyes scanning the cover.

 

“Please, Larry.” His wife’s voice had gone from hard, to soft and defeated and sad . He couldn’t look up without betraying his own emotion, “Please try to understand. I need you, I need you to help because if we don’t try…”

 

She trailed off and Larry looked up. Cynthia’s face was in her hands and her shoulders were shaking.

 

“What? If we don’t try? What were you going to say?”

“We could lose him. I can’t lose my baby, Larry, I look at him and I can see everything. Every time I look at him it’s like I’m seeing him for the first time. And God, I can see his futures, all of them, all the possibilities.”

 

Larry knew tears were dripping onto his cheeks. He didn’t care because he felt the same way, he had been seeing his son in this very room just before his wife came home.

 

“Larry, he doesn’t see a future for himself. He hates who he is, and he thinks - god, he really believes that we would be better off without him.”

 

Larry sighed heavily and stood from his desk chair, book still in hand, and walked over to his wife. He coaxed her out of the chair and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. She didn’t lean into his touch. He still felt like he would never understand how Connor couldn’t just ‘snap out of it.’

 

But he needed to. He wanted to.

 

“Okay,” He said, voice gravelly with tears, “Why don’t we go read this together? You understand all of this better than me, but I want to try. I don’t want to lose him, either.”

 

She nodded, and as they turned out the lights, Larry paused, “He used to come into my office and sit at the end of my desk, doing his homework. When he stopped, I didn’t reach out. I - I know I wasn’t there when he needed me.”

 

“We can do things differently, we can be there now, we can help make things better.”

 

“Show me how.” Larry pulled his wife to his chest and buried his nose in her hair, which smelled the way it always did, like home and comfort and love, “Show me how.”

Chapter Text

Connor carried his notebook into the community room the next morning and sat across from Evan, who was already sitting at the back table working on something. Probably his therapy letters.

 

Connor didn’t make eye contact and started writing his own note,

 

Dear Evan Hansen,

 

I’m sorry for being such an ass last night. I had a really hard session with Emily and sometimes talking is too hard. And you know all about my anger issues. Anyway, I’m not trying to make excuses. I hope we can still be friends.

 

I really enjoyed Saturday, too. It made me think that maybe things could be looking up for once. Today actually feels like it could be okay. Thanks for your note.

 

Sincerely,

 

Me

 

Connor folded the note into a small triangle and flicked it over to Evan, hitting his friend in the forehead.

 

Evan sent him a glare, making Connor smile a little and gesture to the note. Evan picked it up and pulled the note apart. Connor watched nervously as Evan opened it, blue eyes scanning over the words.

 

Instead of walking over to Connor’s side of the table, he started writing in his notebook.

 

Evan flicked the note across the table. Evan was decidedly horrible at folding and shooting paper footballs, because Connor had to lean all the way forward and draw the note toward him with a marker. Evan was nervously biting his nails.

 

Connor smirked as he read the note.

 

Dear Connor Murphy,

 

Of course we’re still friends!! I know you didn’t mean anything last night, but maybe we could like, come up with a signal? So I can know when you don’t want to talk. I don’t want to make you angry.

 

Sincerely,

 

Me

 

Connor ripped another page out of his notebook. It was kind of dumb to keep writing these notes to each other, but it felt like some weird sort of bonding slash forgiveness ritual so he would play the game.

 

Dear Evan Hansen,

 

My vote goes to a finger over the lips, like what librarians do when they shush you. Real librarians do that, right?

 

Sincerely,

 

Me

 

P.s. you suck at paper footballs.

 

Folding the paper with precision, he flicked it over to Evan and hit him right in the chest. Evan grabbed it quickly and unwrapped it. Deciding he should teach Evan how to pass notes effectively, Connor flattened the note Evan wrote him and stashed it in the back of his composition book with the first one.

 

He stood and crossed the room, plunking himself down next to Evan.

 

“This is how you fold a paper football.” Connor didn’t do niceties, “You need to know this for the whole note passing thing we’ve got going on.”

 

Evan paid attention, and even though he had shaky hands, he was starting to get the hang of it.

 

One of the techs walked over, “Connor, your mom called. Can you call her back now?”

 

Connor grumbled, and told Evan he’d be right back.

 

He grabbed the phone and punched in his mom’s number. She picked up on the first ring.

 

“Hey mom,” Connor turned to sit in the chair placed right outside the door for phone call privacy.

 

“Hi sweetie, how is your day going?”

 

“Pretty good. Breakfast was waffles, so that was nice. I don’t like the yogurt parfaits they give us.” Connor bit his lip for a moment, “I talked to Emily about what happened over the weekend. I’m sorry.”

 

“We know you are. I, well - we aren’t expecting you to get better right away. But you’re improving! We’re proud of you.”

 

Connor cleared his throat, “Thanks mom. I love you. So, would you be able to grab a couple more books for me soon? I finished the others.”

 

“Of course!” His mom sounded pleased with his request, “I’m so glad you’re getting back to the things you love. I’ve heard about so many great books coming out.”

 

They talked for a while, his mom updated him on Zoe and her guitar lessons and the jazz camp she was going to in August. She asked Connor questions about his sessions with Emily, the group therapy, and Evan. He always felt like he was holding back, and he was because there were things he wasn’t ready to tell her.

 

But that was okay for now. She sounded happy, and they talked until he was being pulled away from the phone for their first group of the day. They said their  ‘I love you’s’ and after a shitty couple of days, he felt a little bit hopeful.

 

The feeling lasted throughout the day. Connor even spoke to some of the other residents without rolling his eyes.

 

That night, Connor was focusing on Evan’s re-telling of Jared’s bar mitzvah, which apparently involved a lot of attempts at seduction and Evan being forced into distracting Jared’s moms so that Jared could make out with some girl he invited.

 

Jared came back with a bloody lip from the girl’s braces and apparently he’d grinned and given Evan two enthusiastic thumbs up.

 

Kleinman might be a dick, but nobody could say that the kid wasn’t fucking funny most of the time.

 

Connor was about to express that sentiment aloud when he bumped into one of the other residents, spilling his tray onto him and ending up with his own gigantic stain.

 

“Oh fuck.” Connor looked up at the guy, Mitch, who was known for his outbursts and intense public bouts of self-harm. Connor really hoped he didn’t set the kid off, “Sorry.”

 

Mitch was looking down at him with intense brown eyes, and Connor’s chest felt like it was slowly being crushed, fuck he really needed this moment to be over. Really, really badly.

 

He breathed in deeply as a hand came up to grip the spot where Connor’s neck and shoulder met. A large thumb pressed into his throat and Connor was starting to shake, he was getting tunnel vision.

 

“You better get down there and clean up the mess you made,” And that was definitely a threat, but Connor didn’t respond because the pressure on his throat was gone and Mitch was being rushed out of the dining room by at least three techs.

 

He didn’t remember moving to the table, not bothering to get more food, because he was going to throw up if he tried to eat anything. His body was trembling and memories were flashing in front of him.

 

Flash backs , Emily had explained them, and Connor tried to focus on Evan, but he kept remembering being pushed down, told to get on his knees, being pulled up by the throat, being pushed onto the bed by the throat, fingers pressing pills between his slack lips even though he was high enough already but they always wanted him higher and easier to convince.

 

He was scared. He was so, so scared. He shut his eyes and put his head down on the table, he just needed to focus on the sound of Evan’s voice, and when Evan was nervous he never stopped talking.

 

And that was fine. Because Connor probably couldn’t talk right now if he tried. He felt so helpless and fucked up. He couldn’t even get through a small spill in the cafeteria without freaking out.

 

He didn’t understand how he could ever be able to stop the memories, he couldn’t exactly get rid of them, and he couldn't predict when shit like this would happen. The suffering wouldn’t end, he would have to relive this over and over for the rest of his life and he would have to tell his parents what he let happen and they wouldn’t even be able to look at him anymore.

 

He spent the rest of the night thinking about suicide. More like planning it. His nightmares were depriving him of sleep, he was always remembering the nights he had been used and hurt and sometimes it was so hazy that it was just his body remembering the sensations and he wished he’d died after one of the times he was choked out by some guy that called him pretty and gave him drugs.

 

That’s how he should’ve died. That’s how he would die, because he’d been thinking about it since Mitch grabbed him in the cafeteria and he didn’t even feel nervous about doing it. His death was an inevitability. He knew the fact that the reason he was alive right now was because God wanted to toy with him, in some sort of fucked up game, taunting him with relief from his pain and then having him fail just so he could feel everything again - but it would be one hundred times worse.

 

He wouldn’t fail this time. He was done with the pain, done with secrets and shame and disappointing everyone he’d ever known. He was done trying, and not having it ever be good enough. He would never be enough and what was the fucking point of living life if you didn’t care about it and nobody cared about you?

 

The only hesitation was his mom, but at least she would be free of the stress he caused. The research, the visitations, the different treatment centers and schools and therapists.

 

He was a burden.

 

He was a burden to his mom, especially.

 

He wanted her to be happy and she could never be happy while Connor was still alive. She would be even more devastated if she knew about the things he did for drugs. He was so fucking disgusting.

 

He would kill himself, and they wouldn’t have to know, and eventually his family would forget about him. Disappear from the world and from memory. It’s what he always wanted, what he currently wants.

 

Connor was already half-gone. Nobody outside of his family even noticed him, and he’s been in and out of treatment centers for so many years that his family is used to not seeing him. Even when he was home, he used to just fuck off for a few days at a time. They never reported it, to Connor’s knowledge. It wasn’t like he had been trying to hide.

 

The point is, his lack of physical presence wouldn’t affect his family.

 

It was all planned out in his head. He already had his sweatpants strategically tied to the doorknob in his room. All he had to do was get on his knees (people can use whatever metaphor they want, sex or praying, he doesn’t care because he’ll be fucking dead), slip his head into the makeshift noose and lean forward. Once he’s choked himself enough, gravity will do the rest of the job.

 

He knows it will hurt. He’s tried to die three times already. It hurt every fucking time.

 

He wondered if he should write a note. What would he even say? If his family couldn’t catch onto his suffering after three attempts then what was the point of a note? It wouldn’t make them suddenly understand.

 

He got up, moving to a chair closer to the door. All he had to do was sneak out when nobody was looking. He would have plenty of time before someone noticed he was gone. A voice nagged at the back of his head, telling him to not do it, to reach out.

 

The people he was supposed to talk to if he was feeling this way were Emily and his mom. He moved over to where one of the techs was sitting.

 

“Is Emily here? Can I talk to her?”

 

The tech looked up at him, “Is there a reason you need to see her?”

 

“Do I have to have one?” Connor snarled, fists clenching at his sides.

 

“She’s probably gone for the day, but I’ll have someone check her office for you.”

 

His eyes welled with tears and he stomped off after the tech told him he needed to speak more respectfully. Whatever. They wouldn’t have to worry about his tone after tonight.

 

Not even two minutes later, he was told that Emily would be for a few days. Vacation. Great. He wasn’t sure if he felt abandoned or if he was relieved because this was a sign from the universe.

 

A sign that he should do it, because when he needed people they wouldn’t be there. That was a pattern and it always will be.

 

The last thing he would do. Call his mom. Apologize, maybe, tell her he loves her but that it’s better this way. He pulled the corded phone around the door frame and sat in the chair just outside the room for privacy.

 

The phone rings. And rings. And rings, and rings, and he eventually gets her voicemail. And by the time the robot voice tells him to leave a message after the tone, he’s crying.

 

Connor hung up the phone after leaving a voicemail. Nobody was looking, so he got up and then he was in his room, kneeling behind the shut door. He didn’t remember walking to his room.

 

He took a deep breath and slid the sweatpant-noose he made over his head, tightening it until he felt pressure on his throat and it was hard to swallow. He emptied his lungs before leaning forward, and it burned, until his vision began to go black and a euphoria overcame him, and there was a barely-there voice telling him to sit up and breathe, but his limbs weren’t working and that was good, good because it meant he was dying.

 

The voice was telling him to sit up and breathe again, and Connor had a moment of fear, because the voice might be real, but he couldn’t tell. And it hurt, but it always hurt, and he didn’t care, because him hurting now meant that others wouldn’t hurt in the future.

 

He fell into a blissful unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

6:16pm - Cynthia

 

It had been a pretty good day in Cynthia’s world. She had a pleasant conversation with her son that morning, and she had taken Zoe shopping for the afternoon. It was one of the better days of the past year, and she had been thanking God throughout the day for her fortune. 

 

She finally felt soft, she could feel the gentle upturn of her lips. She watched her daughter pile their shopping bags into the backseat, her auburn hair glistening in the summer sun. Zoe had Cynthia’s hair. She longed for the brief moments when she could see glimpses of herself in her kids. 

 

It made them feel more real, like they were really hers. Sometimes she felt like they were too good, too precious for the world. When they were young, she would sit at their bedside until the early hours of the morning. The only thing that could tear her from them was Larry, kissing her softly and promising he wouldn’t let anything happen to them. 

 

She sometimes wished she could make them small again, keep them safe from the hard times. 

 

“Mom, can you drop me off at Alana’s?” Zoe asked as she buckled her seat belt, “She’s got a few days before heading off to some girls leadership camp and we wanted to have a sleepover. I have my backpack in the back already!” 

 

Cynthia pulled out of the parking lot and peeked over at her daughter and smiled, “Of course, sweetie.” 

 

She couldn’t keep them safe in her arms forever. Her daughters radiant smile made the sun feel even warmer than it already did. 

 

“Thanks!” Zoe turned on the radio and scanned the channels. 

 

“Zoe.” Cynthia started, feeling her stomach balloon up into her chest like it was being filled with helium. 

 

“Yeah?” 

 

She reached over to put a hand on Zoe’s arm, “I know everything with Connor has been...hard. And I want you to know that I love you and that you are just as much of a priority as he is.” 

 

Zoe looked down, “I know, mom.” 

 

“It takes up a lot of our time, and I know sometimes we don’t get to see each other much. Just, please just let me know if things get hard. And we can try to spend more time together! I was thinking we could get manicures soon -”

 

“That sounds great, mom. I’m fine, really.” Zoe assured her, as they pulled into Alana’s driveway. Her daughter leaned over the console and hugged her. Cynthia pressed a kiss to Zoe’s cheek. 

 

“Have a good time.” 

 

“See you tomorrow!” 



Larry - 6:33pm

 

After getting home from work, Larry immediately went upstairs to change into more comfortable clothing. His day had been tiring, and he was looking forward to having a night in with his wife. 

 

He’d bought a bottle of white wine on the way home, something they could share. He hung his clothing, thinking about connecting with his wife for the first time in many months. After Cynthia spoke with him the other night, things seemed to be improving. Suddenly, it was like she opened up. 

 

He hadn’t realized how much she seemed to be crumbling under the pressure of their son’s distress. Larry tried to brush away the guilt that ate him up every time he realized how much he didn’t do. 

 

With a sigh, he grabbed the book he and Cynthia were working through off the bedside table and walked into Connor’s room. It was surprisingly tidy in here, there was a small pile of clothes next to an empty hamper and Connor’s alarm clock didn’t appear to be working. 

 

He considered changing the batteries but didn’t think Connor ever used the old thing. His son’s phone was his clock and his alarm. Larry sat on the edge of the twin bed and opened the book, reading the first person account of being a teenager with bipolar disorder. 

 

Larry tried to imagine being Connor, alone in this room, feeling the way this person was trying to describe. He couldn’t feel it, he couldn’t imagine it. He knew it was bad, he knew it wasn’t made up - but the emotions wouldn’t come. Despite Connor having been in and out of treatment, in and out of the hospital for suicide attempts, his son had never looked like he had just tried to kill himself. At least not for long. 

 

He focused his attention back on the reading, searching it for similarities, searching for things Connor may have said to him that he brushed off. 

 

Larry resolved to be better. He had to be. It was worth seeing his wife turn toward the light like a sunflower, worth it to see his children bonding and talking instead of fighting. 

 

He wished he could feel and know his son’s pain better. If he could just understand, if he could remove whatever thing was protecting him - maybe he could be a better father. The father Connor and Zoe need. 

 

Cynthia - 6:45pm

 

Cynthia thought that conversation with Zoe went pretty well! She knew her daughter had come second at times. She also wanted to be there for her, to talk about boys and shop and do the things that Cynthia had enjoyed doing with her own mom. 

 

She finally felt that she could juggle the three most important people in her life and give her whole heart to all of them. Just a few days after getting Larry back on her side, she felt less empty of patience and empathy. 

 

Larry. Her husband, the man she loved, was coming back. She was so pleased that they were connecting over Connor’s treatment and his struggles and how it affected both of them. 

 

Tonight was another second chance for them. She and Larry would have a night to themselves, something that hadn’t happened in so long. 

 

She smiled softly as she thought about pouring them each a glass of wine. She could drape her legs over his lap and rest her head in the crook of his neck, like they used to do before things started falling apart. 

 

Her phone buzzed and she glanced away from the road to check the caller ID. It was Connor. She was going to get home, start dinner, and then call him back. Maybe Connor would agree to speak with Larry for a few minutes. 

 

6:55pm- Larry

 

Checking his watch, Larry decided to put the book away and set up the living room for their night in. Two wine glasses, a candle that Cynthia’s sister gifted them for their anniversary, and their extremely backed-up DVR. 

 

He felt inexplicable butterflies in his stomach, and he shook his head at himself. This was his wife, he had no reason to be nervous.

 

Larry had just relaxed into the couch, thinking about his wife and the ways the night might end when the landline rang. 

 

He answered, “Larry Murphy speaking.” 

 

“Mr. Murphy? This is Carol, one of the nurses at Sunstone. I’m calling in regards to your son Connor.” 

 

The tone of her voice killed whatever pleasant nervousness he’d been experiencing a minute ago. Larry sat up, “Yes?” 

 

She paused, the silence was both too long and not long enough, “Connor is being transferred to Children’s. Tonight he was found hanging himself in his room, using his clothing.” 

 

“Oh my God.” Larry launched himself off the couch, knocking the wine glasses over as he rushed to the door, “Oh my god. We’re on the way.” 

 

He hung up the phone and dropped it to the floor so he could tie his shoes into messy knots. 

 

6:56pm - Cynthia

 

She walked into the house, immediately greeted with the pleasant scent of wine and her favorite candle. When she turned the corner, she watched her husband drop the landline phone to the ground and shove his foot into his sneaker. 

 

His face was panicked and something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong. 

 

“Larry?” She asked, voice soft as to not startle him out of whatever thoughts were racing around his head.

 

“When did you get home?” He asked, and she took a small step back at the sharp tone of his voice. 

 

“Just a minute ago, I thought we could eat and then -” 

 

“We have to go.” He took two of their jackets from the front closet, even though it wasn’t cold inside, “Hurry!” 

 

Her heart was beating so quickly in her chest, and Larry had grabbed her arm. He was pulling her to the door out to the garage. 

 

“Larry, what’s going on?” Cynthia pulled her arm from Larry’s grasp and she tried to take deep breaths. 

 

“Connor’s in the hospital. They said he tried to hang himself -” 

 

“Oh my god. I missed a call from Connor, I was going to call him back after we ate.” Her heart was somehow everywhere at once pulsing behind her eyes, in her lower back, in her calves. 

 

She was crying and Larry grabbed the keys from her hands, pushing her into the car and speeding out of the driveway. 

 

7:01pm - Larry

 

He tried to focus on the road rather than his wife’s constant cries. He had to get them to the hospital safely.

 

“He left a voicemail, Larry. He sounded - he was having a good day. I was going to call back -”

 

He didn’t get a chance to ask her not to play it before it was playing through the sound system in the car. 

 

“It’s Connor. I just - um - wanted to call. I said I would, if, you know. I felt like this again. I’m sorry, I’m really sorry mom. I love you, but this is how it’s supposed to be. I know I’m not supposed to be here.”  

 

Larry blinked his eyes quickly, because with every word the road became blurry. His heart was in his mouth and it tasted like copper wiring. He hadn’t felt this type of desperation every time they ended up rushing to the hospital for Connor. 

 

The first overdose was a hazy experience, Larry always looked back and thought it was like he’d been watching from someone else’s perspective. Like it hadn’t actually happened to them. It was almost expected, in a way, because Connor had been coming home strung out every other night. 

 

When Zoe found Connor bleeding out in the bathtub, Larry came from work. He’d been enraged, angry that Connor could do something so dumb, angry that his son would just throw everything away. 

 

“I’m glad to know you won’t have to deal with all of this anymore, you can focus on Zoe and dad will be happier without me fucking up all the time. I just - I hope you can forget me. All of you.”  

 

The last overdose, when Connor was found in the park, he had been filled with resignation. Larry had been slowly drawing away from his family for months, so when Zoe and Cynthia broke down in the car on the way there, Larry had just felt...felt frustrated. Frustrated that they had to keep doing this.  

 

“It’ll be like I was never even here, and that’s what I always wanted. For me, and for you. So yeah.” 

 

Connor’s words were eviscerating him, and Larry wished that Cynthia would stop playing the goddamn voicemail because this felt like his fault. He’d been the one to pick a fight with their son on Sunday. 

 

He’d been the one to only feel anger and frustration and a sense of inevitability when Connor tried to kill himself. 

 

7:05pm - Cynthia

 

She hadn’t answered the phone. 

 

She hadn’t answered the phone, and she promised Connor she would be there. 

 

What had she done? Why did she decide she could gamble when it came to Connor? 

 

7:07pm - Larry

Signing in to see Connor was a blur. He'd been sitting in this sense of deja vu since they entered the parking garage and Cynthia began running into the building as fast as she could. Her desperation never changed, the cool, antiseptic air of the hospital never changed.

He knew he should be feeling more, feeling the same desperation as his wife, but he wasn't. He was the anchor, he was in control. He had to control the chaos. 

If he didn't, he wouldn't know what to do. 

 

Cynthia -7:10pm

She wasn’t sure if she or Larry desperately told the nurses that they were here to see their son Connor. The nurse nodded, a grim look on her face. 

 

She couldn’t wait, she couldn’t keep gambling and waiting to see the outcome. 

 

“Is he alive?” She tried to come off strong, collected. They were following the nurse showing them to the room. The nurses butterfly scrubs were a horrible juxtaposition to her desperation.

 

Larry - 7:10pm

 

“He’s in there. You can see him, take your time.” 

 

It wasn’t an answer. That wasn’t an answer to his wife's question and his hands were shaking. Connor looked so pale and small in the hospital bed. He watched from the doorway as Cynthia ran into the room and collapsed to her knees, reaching for her son’s hand.  

 

7:12pm - Cynthia

 

She ran into the room and the world stopped. Suddenly she was on her knees next to Connor, and Larry was still in the doorway.

He was breathing, Connor was breathing and she pressed her son's hand to her cheek, trying to feel its warmth, trying to feel the pulse in his wrist against her lips but they were trembling too much. 

What had Connor done? 

What had she done ?  

 

7:13pm - Larry

He had been here before, he felt stuck in time, stuck in the same doorway he’d watched from three times already. 

 

Everything and nothing was changing and he searched the room for anything that could place him in time. 

 

As always, there was oxygen and an IV. This time there was no blood transfusion. No Zoe, crying hysterically outside the room. There was no rancid scent of his son’s vomit. 

 

But there were red and purple bruises covering Connor’s neck. And Larry finally understood, viscerally, that his son wanted to die. His attempts weren’t accidents, they weren’t for attention, they weren’t some strange form of rebelling. 

 

Connor really wanted to die. 

 

His son wanted to die. I just hope you can forget me. 

 

That’s all I wanted. For me, and for you.

 

The words repeated in his mind, torturing him, filling him with a grief he never felt before. He wanted to scream and sob, but Cynthia was still kneeling next to the bed, crying into Connor’s limp hand as she held it against her cheek. He bit his cheek and finally moved to kneel next to her. 

 

He buried his face in her neck and let his cries join hers. Let himself truly cry for Connor, for the very first time.