Tom had had a pretty good day so far. He had woken up early for once, showered with hot water, had a nice breakfast (or as nice as a coffee cup and a grilled cheese sandwich can be) and had arrived at his office with five minutes to spare. Everybody was shocked (nah, that is an exaggeration, they were pretty surprised, but it's not like Tom was that irresponsible, otherwise he would have been fired ages ago) and Tom had just shrugged and settled in his office, starting to work.
The only thing missing was his coworker/office buddy/best friend Eric, who had not showed up at all, and it was 8:20 am already, which was also quite the surprise for everybody. Eric was never late to work. Never.
"He must be stuck in traffic" Tom thought. It made sense, actually. There had been an accident in the middle of the highway, which just so happened to be on Eric's route from his house to work. It hadn't been too big to stop all cars, but who knows. Tom figured Eric would appear at the door of his office anytime soon.
He glanced at the clock on the wall. 8:40 am. Wow. Early to work, in a good mood, but still easily distracted by his own thoughts as always. To be honest, whenever that happened Eric would nudge him and Tom would get out of whatever trance he was in. Eric wouldn't let Tom get distracted for more than 5 minutes. And the fact that he zoned out for 20 minutes showed Tom how noticeable Eric's absence was.
He really wanted to call or text him, just to know if he was okay and on his way.
But if Eric was driving, Tom was not going to make him grab his phone and crash his car.
So he got started on his computer, hoping his friend would appear any minute.
Eric did not appear.
It was already 10 am when Tom started to worry. What if Eric was sick? What if he had a family emergency? What if Eric had been involved in another accident? Oh, God. What if Eric was involved in that car accident from earlier?
Knowing he couldn't leave the office without permission, Tom had to settle for a call, and took out his phone.
It rang once, twice, three times, four times...
"Dammit" Tom muttered, calling again.
It rang once, twice, three times, four times...
"Come on, Eric" Tom hissed. "Pick up, pick up".
It rang once, twice, three times, four times...
Tom sighed. It wasn't like Eric to not answer a phone call, especially Tom's phone calls. Maybe Eric didn't have his phone near at the time. Maybe he was still sleeping.
Or maybe he just could not answer. Maybe a text would be more discreet and would let Eric reply as soon as he was available.
Hey, where r u?
No answer either.
Sighing, Tom contemplated getting back to work, and glanced at his computer. Yeah, no way he was going to get any work done with those worries clouding his mind...
Eric may not have called him, but Tom knew exactly who he definitely would have. Someone who, unlike Tom, Eric was actually (and contractually) obligated to explain why he was not in his office since the day started.
So Tom got out of his office and headed to the elevator. He knew exactly who to see.
"I'm telling you, those ads you're planning to use are very bad publicity for us".
"Well, I don't see the problem. It's a good product, no matter who is known for using it".
"Rafi, we're talking about white supremacists. People don't like that stuff".
"Only because we're promoting a product that a douchebag congressman used, doesn't mean we support the guy. The product is good, and politics have nothing to do with it".
"Are you listening to yourself? People don't understand that! Regardless of our personal opinion on the matter, they will link us to him and say we support him".
"Look, brother, I hate the guy as much as you do. But this is just marketing. And some little PC crap is not going to stop us".
"I still don't think you're taking the company's image into full consideration..."
Knock, knock, knock.
"Hold that thought. Come in!"
Tom entered the office, and saw his boss, Rafi Fine, sitting in his desk. Rafi's brother, Benny, was standing up in front of him, and several sheets of paper had been tossed on the desk. Benny looked exasperated, and Rafi looked exhausted, having removed his glasses and rubbed his face with his hand.
"Am I interrupting?" Tom asked.
"No, no" Rafi replied. "Benny and I were just discussing the next ads we were gonna use. How can I help you?"
Tom scratched the back of his neck. "I was wondering if Eric had called in sick this morning".
Rafi and Benny shared a confused look.
"No, actually no" Rafi replied. "I do know he hasn't clocked in today, which is weird, because he has never been absent or late to work, in all the time he's been working here".
"I would have thought you'd know about his whereabouts" Benny said.
Tom frowned. "Me?"
"Yeah, aren't you his best friend? At least, that's what Eric told me the other day. Wouldn't shut up about your bond".
Tom couldn't help but grin a little. It did not last too long, though, he was still worried. "Well, I did call and text, but so far..."
He took out his phone, hoping Eric had texted him back. "Nothing".
He frowned. Something was definitely not right.
Hey, I'm starting to get really worried about u. Please, let me know you're ok.
"Hey, maybe it's a family thing" Rafi suggested. "Maybe it was too urgent".
"Too urgent to not even have called the office?" Tom asked.
"Well, how about this?" Benny said. "Has Eric been having problems at home?"
Taken aback by the question, Tom blinked a few times. "I mean, yeah, a few, but... I mean, he has depression, you know, but he's been taking care of himself, and living normally. I don't think that's why he's not here".
"Could be a setback, it happens to everybody" Benny said. "He's probably lying on his bed, staring at the wall".
"You won't give him a hard time if that's the case, right?" Tom asked, addressing Rafi.
Rafi shook his head. "Of course not, I'd be more than understanding. But Benny is right, you're his best friend, why don't you go and check on him?"
"Will do" Tom said. "Thanks, Rafi".
"Don't mention it" he replied. "Let us know how he is".
After nodding, Tom left the office.
"Now" said Rafi,looking at his brother. "Where were we?"
Benny opened his mouth to speak, but was again interrupted, this time by the phone ringing.
"Oh, must be the guys from the press syndicate" Rafi said, picking up. "Fine Brothers Entertainment. Yes, this is Rafi Fine. Oh, yes, I was just wondering why he didn't come to work today".
He covered the phone with his hand, and lowered his voice. "It's about Eric".
Uncovering the phone, he listened to what the caller was saying. "Uh huh. Wait, what?"
Benny did not like the sudden change of expression on his brother's face.
"When?" Rafi asked. "But is he... Yes, I was just talking to him. Ok, I'll tell him. Thanks".
"What happened?" Benny asked.
Rafi was livid. "We need to find Tom. Now".
Tom gathered his things, turned off his computer, and put on his jacket all in a hurry to go and see what had happened to Eric. Once he made sure everything was in its place, he grabbed his keys.
"Already leaving?" asked a voice behind him.
A bit startled, Tom turned around to see his friend Danny, leaning against the door frame.
"You scared me, man!" Tom exclaimed.
Danny chuckled. "Sorry. What's with the hurry? I mean, it's not even noon yet".
"Gotta go see Eric" Tom explained.
"Oh, yeah, he hasn't come today. Is he sick or something?"
"I really hope not".
Danny turned around when he heard steps coming behind him. He stepped aside to let Rafi and Benny in, excusing himself to go to his own office.
"What's the matter?" Tom asked. "Did something happen?"
Rafi looked at his brother, trying to remain calm, and looked back at Tom.
"As a matter of fact, yes, something has happened".
Tom let out a nervous chuckle. "Well, don't keep me waiting, man, what is it?"
Rafi took a deep breath. "Eric's brother called me, right after you left my office".
"Ok?" Tom said, not sure where this was going, and crossed his arms. He had heard one of Eric's older brothers was in town, but had not had the time to find out which one. Not that it was important at the moment.
"You see, he told me the reason why Eric hasn't been answering his phone".
Tom looked from Rafi to Benny, and then back at Rafi. "Dude, you're scaring me".
"Tom, you might want to sit down" Benny said calmly.
"I don't want to sit down, I want to see Eric!".
Tom didn't know what had gotten into him, but the way Rafi and Benny were talking, the way the looked, he didn't like it one bit. A horrible feeling washed over him, and suddenly all he wanted was to get out of the building and see for himself that Eric was okay. It wasn't like him to get that desperate, but there was something his boss knew that he didn't, and he was starting to be really, really afraid of what it could be.
"Please" he begged quietly. "Rafi, tell me".
Rafi looked at Tom. "I don't know all the details, but his brother wanted me to tell you this: Eric is in the hospital".
"Rafi" Benny intervened. "I don't know if this is the right place to..."
"My God, just tell me!" Tom snapped.
"Eric tried to kill himself this morning" Rafi said. "He was found by his brother and rushed to the hospital immediately".
Tom didn't hear anything else. He felt sick. He felt as if he had gotten the hardest punch in the gut and all air had gotten out of his lungs.
"Tom, it's ok" said Benny.
"No, it's not".
"Is he alright?"
"Is. He. Alright?" Tom asked with more emphasis.
Rafi sighed. "I don't know. All I know is that they want you there. As soon as possible".
Tom pursed his lips and attempted to walk past Benny. Rafi stopped him.
"Whoa, whoa, Tom, I think it's better if we take you there" he said, grabbing his arm.
"I can drive" Tom said dryly, yanking away.
"Tom, you just got some terrible news..." Benny started.
"I said I can drive!" Tom yelled.
"No, you can't!" Rafi replied, as loud as Tom. "Not like this. You wanna see Eric? You wanna make it to the hospital in one piece? Then we'll take you there!"
"I don't need help, I need to see Eric!"
Rafi grabbed Tom's arm again, for he had motioned to leave. "You will, I promise!"
"Let me go!" Tom shouted, trying to break free, but Rafi's grip was stronger this time. "Let me fucking go!"
Many heads popped out of several offices, curious to see what the scandal was about.
"Tom, this is not the place to make a scene" Benny hissed.
"He's right" Rafi agreed. "Come on".
Without saying anything else, and still holding Tom by the arm, Rafi dragged him away.
Benny stared at the rest of the employees. "Show's over, guys. Back to work!"
As the heads returned inside the offices, Benny followed Tom and Rafi.
The ride to the hospital had been silent. After some struggling, Rafi forced Tom into his car, and once Benny was in too, he drove away before Tom could escape.
Rafi knew he was acting a little over the edge, but he did care for his coworkers, and was not going to let Tom drive in the state he was.
As soon as he parked the car, Tom got out of the car and dashed to the emergency room, nearly crashing with a surgeon, and quickly approached the receptionist.
"My friend, Eric Beckerman, he was brought in this morning, I need to know if he's ok".
The receptionist gave him an indifferent look. "Sorry, I can only give that information to family members".
Tom got furious, but before he could say anything, a female voice called him.
The boy looked to his side. From a seat, Eric's mother had stood up and was waving at him. Next to her, a young man was sitting with his head on his hands. Tom recognised him. It was Scott, one of Eric's brothers. Tom quickly ran to them, and embraced Eric's mother.
"Oh my God" was all he could say, voice breaking, muffled by the woman's shoulder.
"I know" she said, soothingly, running a hand on Tom's hair. "I know".
Tom separated from her. He could not even begin to imagine what she was probably going through, and was admired by her strenght. Her eyes weren't red, she was not shaking and her voice was calm. He knew that deep inside she was probably a nervous wreck for the youngest of her children, but had to be strong for them, and probably for Tom too.
"I'm so sorry" he said.
"Thank you" she replied, giving him a small smile. "I just spoke with the doctor. Eric was brought in just in time, apparently, but his situation is delicate. They are working on him right now".
Tom nodded, but the feeling didn't go away.
Eric's mother looked at him, a bit concerned. "Oh, honey, you look pale. I'll bring some coffee, ok?"
"Ok" he replied, occupying her seat when she left.
Scott lifted his head.
"Hey, Scott" Tom greeted.
"Hey, man" he replied.
"I'm really sorry about what happened. I heard you found him".
Scott sighed. "I don't think I'll ever forget that image".
"May I ask?"
"He slit his wrists. Several times. I found him unresponsive on the bathroom floor, you know. And the blood, my God, there was so much blood".
"Why are you all cleaned up then?"
"I showered and changed in the other bathroom" Scott said. "Obviously. I figured I can't go inside a hospital looking like a massacre survivor or something. Might scare the crap out of everybody".
Tom chuckled. "Right".
"Mom's been acting strong" Scott continued. "She was downstairs, in the kitchen, and I didn't let her see Eric. She did freak out when she saw the paramedics arrive and when I told her what had happened. Especially when she saw me all bloodied. But she never saw Eric, and she hasn't seen the bathroom either. I made sure of that. She got to see him when the EMTs got him out on the stretcher, but by then he had been covered and his wrists had been bandaged, so it wasn't too terrible. And she went with him in the ambulance and I stayed to clean myself up and wait for the cops. There are people at the house right now, cleaning the bathroom".
"Thanks for calling me" said Tom after a few seconds of silence.
"No problem" Scott replied. "It was only right. Eric would have wanted you here anyway. Oh, there's Mom".
Eric's mother was walking to them, holding a plastic tray with three cups of coffee with one hand and a paper bag with the other, probably with something to eat.
But she was just about to speak when the doors of the Emergency room opened and a doctor came out, holding an iPad, and stood in the middle of the waiting room.
"Beckerman?" he called.
Scott and his mother approached him, with Tom behind them.
"So? What is it?" Scott asked. "Is he... Alive? Is he ok?"
The doctor glanced at Tom. "I'm sorry, but I can only share this information with family members".
"He is family" said Eric's mother, leaving no room for further discussion.
Sighing, the doctor checked his iPad, searching for Eric's results.
"Well?" Scott asked.
The doctor looked at them, sympathy and sorrow in his eyes. "I'm really sorry..."
The heart monitor beeped steadily as the morning sunlight announced the upcoming arrival of noon. The windows were open, fresh spring air entering, and the view of the gardens was so beautiful, yet so sad. Soft music could be heard from outside, and the sounds of children playing and laughing in the local park nearby were the only noises that gave the silent room a little bit of life.
"The doctor said you'd wake up in a few days" his voice trembled. "It's only been three and yet it feels like an eternity".
Tom was sitting next to Eric's bed, as he contemplated him sleeping peacefully. He looked so calm, so broken. So pale and weak because of all the blood he had lost and was now regaining (he had even had a transfusion in order to save his life). Thick, clean bandages covered his wrists, they were changed at least once a day. Scott and their mother would join them soon. Tom didn't want Eric to be alone, he just wanted to see him before going to work, even though Rafi had given him the rest of the week off to recover from the whole ordeal.
"What happened, buddy?" he asked softly. "Just the day before you were all smiles, cracking jokes, you had just told me how blessed you felt to have me in your life".
He grabbed Eric's hand, holding back tears he had been shedding for the past three days. It really surprised him how he still had them, he had actually been expecting his eyes to be dry from crying so much, leaving them only red and puffy, as they were at the moment. Although, maybe all the water he had been drinking had something to do with it (Scott had advised him to stay hydrated).
"That's something you'd say" he chuckled wetly. "Were you saying goodbye? Were you planning to do this? Leave your family? Leave me? You could have talked to me, I would have listened, maybe none of this would have happened".
He was crying again, the sadness and the guilt washing all over him. He took Eric's hand and placed a soft kiss on its back. It was their thing, actually. Their PDA was so often most people thought they were together when in reality that wasn't the case. It was just who they were, and they loved showing affection to each other.
"I don't know if I said it enough, or even if I said it at all. Maybe I did, and you just didn't believe me. Maybe you thought I was just saying it. But I meant it. I love you. I love you and I can't picture my life without you in it. You are the best friend I've ever had, and the only person I would trust with my life. And I'm so sorry I couldn't be that to you. I'm sorry I didn't see the signs, I'm sorry I wasn't observant to see that you were going down such a dark path".
Placing another gentle kiss on Eric's hand, Tom let his tears fall as he watched his friend sleep. The warmth of his skin letting him know Eric was there, alive and well, safe from his demons, even if it was for a little bit.
"I can't lose you" he said. "I just can't. I don't know what I'd do if I did. I can help you, Eric, we all can. There's a lot of people out there who love and support you. I just need you to wake up. You can talk to me, I'm here and I will never leave you, I promise. You just have to wake up. Please, Eric, please".
Tom carefully put Eric's hand back on the bed, needing to wipe his tears away. But he just couldn't help it, it was all too much. So, covering his face, he sobbed.
Tom looked up, completely shocked. the voice had been so little he had almost missed it, and he had to look just to make sure he was not imagining it. And he wasn't.
Eric was moving.
"God" Tom whispered, using the phrase not to express his surprise, but to remind himself that there was a God up in the sky, who had listened and given him his friend back.
"Tom?" said Eric again. His voice was weak and low.
Tom sat closer to the bed, soothing his friend while gently caressing his hair. "Hey, buddy, it's ok, it's ok, I'm here. I'm here and I'm not leaving".
Eric's eyes slowly opened, not so much, for they had been closed for a long time and would need a little while to adjust to the daylight. He looked around, confused, at the white walls of the room. "Am I dead?"
"No, Eric, you're not dead" Tom replied, smiling. A few tears fell down his face, but this time, for a different motive. "You're alive, you're safe, and you have no idea how happy that makes me".
Eric glanced at his friend. "Then why are you crying?"
Tom faked a nonchalant shrug, trying to be a little humorous. He didn't care, Eric was okay, and he was just too happy, but a sniff betrayed him. "Oh nothing, I almost lost the most important person in my life, that's all". He sniffed again, and wiped his tears away.
"I'm sorry" Eric said sadly.
"Don't be. I should be sorry. I failed you, Eric. I could have been there when you needed me and I wasn't. I'm an awful friend".
"That's not true" said Eric, grabbing Tom's hand. "I meant what I said the other day. You're my best friend. And you didn't fail me. You didn't even have to save me"
"How can you say that?"
"I'm not okay. I'm not worth saving".
"Yes, you are!"
"Why? Because you might not believe this, but you are important. You might feel worthless, but our friendship is the most important thing in the world to me. You make my days better, even when I've had an awful one, you always make it better. You are needed, Eric, you are loved. And I don't know how, but we will make an effort on showing you that. I love you, buddy. And I don't ever want to see you like this ever again. Will you let me help you?"
Eric let out a single tear, and nodded. "I'm so sorry I made you go through this".
"I'm here for you, always" Tom said, still holding Eric's hand. "You know that. It won't be easy, but you'll make it, I promise".
"Thank you for being my friend" he replied, smiling.
Tom smiled back. "Now, just wait for your mom to find out you're awake. You'll get the earful of the century".
Eric groaned, covering his face with his hands as Tom laughed. "Ugh. Don't you wanna stay and soften the blow?"
"I could" he said. "I got the rest of the week off. I can stay".
Eric, voice still weak, laughed a little.
"But you need to rest, so go to sleep" said Tom.
"But I've been asleep for the past three days".
"How do you know it's been three days?"
"You said so".
"You heard everything I said?"
"I was already waking up" he revealed. "But said such sweet things. One would think you're actually in love with me..."
"Ok! Time to sleep again" said Tom, leaning down and pressing a little kiss on Eric's forehead. "I'll be here when you wake up".
Eric closed his eyes, and was asleep again in a matter of seconds.
Tom sat again, and smiled. He was okay, and Eric was okay.
Everything was going to be just fine.