It started with his friends watching disapprovingly as he got up onstage at karaoke night, or did a bump off a stripper, or came back from an obvious blowjob with his belt still undone. He could handle the looks. He could even handle the knowledge that people were talking about him behind his back, saying things like “I’m worried about Gabe, have you seen how sick he looks?” He could take interventions. He thought they were funny. They were a good excuse to get high and piss people off.
It started with all of that. It ended when he woke up in the hospital.
Everyone thought “accident” when they heard “Gabe overdosed”.
Nobody thought to keep a closer eye on him until the third fucking time, when Gabe woke up again with his head pounding and his throat feeling like it had gone through a cheese grater. He hated himself so much, curled up in a little ball to the tune of “couldn’t even die right, couldn’t even kill myself”.
He discharged himself with a quick signature and found himself standing at an ATM that just wouldn’t fucking take his card. His lips were chapped and his sweatshirt was covered in vomit. He assumed the answer was “more pills”. But to get more pills he needed more cash, and he couldn’t get the ATM to give him any.
His hands were shaking as he crumpled to the ground next to the machine, he needed food and a warm bed. Maybe a shower. He needed a drink.
His phone rang in his pocket, and he grimaced. He answered, though, because his head hurt and his eyes were pounding. He let out a little pained noise. “What?” he choked.
There was a careful silence. “It’s time to come home, Gabriel.”
He sobbed a little, threw his phone weakly. He didn’t want to go home. He stubbornly crawled forward and put the phone to his ear again. “Dad, I need help.”
His father’s voice was music to his ears. “I know. I’m on my way to pick you up.”
The hand that reached out to him hours later, it looked like a message from above. He’d had time to get fucked up, with the little cash left in his wallet from before, and he was more than just a little stoned when his father pulled him off the ground.
“How much did you take, Gabe,” his dad urged, before they were even in the car.
Gabe’s eyes wouldn’t focus and he tripped on a crack in the sidewalk. “Not enough.”
Gabe had always been a mama’s boy. But his mom left his dad when he was eight, because his dad focused too much on his work and not enough on her. Gabe thought it was hilarious when his dad remarried a PYT who barely spoke English. It got marginally less funny the longer their relationship went on. What little time his dad had left, he spent it on his new wife and their new kid. Not on Gabe, who was growing up fast and loud.
Waking up in his childhood home, a huge house made just for his father’s family, it was smothering. It hurt. The sheets were clean, Gabe had to piss, and he could smell how sterile everything was.
His head was still pounding when he opened his eyes in the dark room, and his breathing picked up because he didn’t know where he was. He sat up, tossed off the blankets, which were making his skin itch, and turned on the lamp. He found a glass of water and gulped it down.
He realized, with a pang of utter humiliation, that he was home.
The next thing he felt was an incredible panic, he had to get up and get out. He couldn’t let his dad see him like this. He was enough of a disappointment as it was.
He put his feet on the floor and stood up, ignoring the wave of dizziness and pushing forward. He made his way to the bathroom, he knew where it was, he’d used to live there.
He avoided making eye contact with himself in the mirror and barely rinsed his hands. He had to get out.
He’d no sooner made it to the front door when he was stopped by a firm hand on his shoulder. He flinched hard and turned around, ready to fight whoever had touched him.
His father’s soft eyes stared back into his own, crumpled his resolve, forced him to obey. He drew in a shaky breath and swallowed. He was still shaking and his head was throbbing, but he didn’t care too much. He was paralyzed.
His father’s mouth was a thin line, and Gabe could’ve imagined it, but he thought he could see pain in the intense gaze.
“Let me go,” he tried, making sure he stayed respectful.
“I can’t do that.”
Gabe’s breath was shaking, every part of him was shaking. “Just let me go.”
“Just twenty minutes,” he begged, his lips were numb, speech was difficult.
Gabe panted. “Please, dad. Please, I can’t do this.”
His father’s eyes were piercing. “You asked for help.”
Gabe’s chest hurt. “I didn’t mean it. Let me go.” He found himself being led to a couch, where he was expected to sit down. “Let me go,” he begged. A soft blanket settled over his shoulders, it burned his skin but it was keeping him warm. “Please, I can’t.”
“You can, Gabriel. I’ll be here to help you.”
Gabe whimpered. He closed his eyes. He felt so pathetic, but he was still high. Nothing felt real.
“You should sleep.”
Gabe had no problem with that.
Waking up sober was worse. Waking up high had been bad, waking up sober was worse.
He realized, halfway to the door of the guest room he’d somehow ended up in again, that he wasn’t dressed. He just had a pair of briefs on. He had a little sister somewhere around the house, he didn’t want her to see him like that.
The attached bathroom was the home of a fluffy bathrobe, and he put it on, glancing at himself for a few seconds before stopping to stare at how sick he looked.
He opened the front of the robe to stare at his bruised ribs. His eyes had dark circles around them, his face was breaking out in acne, and his skin was pale and scarred. He swallowed and became entranced at the sight of his cracked and bloody lips.
He didn’t shoot up often, but the marks from every single last dose of anything he’d ever put in his arms were clear and obvious. He looked like a junkie. He wasn’t sure he wasn’t one.
He tied the robe and tore his eyes away from the trainwreck that had become his body. It wasn’t like he expected it to last very long, anyway. He was going to die, probably. He didn’t need a healthy body.
He took a deep breath and left the bathroom. His feet sank into the carpet when he walked down the hallway toward the rest of the house. At some point, he’d made the decision to stay put. He wasn’t sure how he’d come to that conclusion.
It didn’t sink in until he found himself standing in the kitchen, watching his little sister make breakfast. Her back was to him, and he knew that he would scare her when she turned around. He wasn’t looking forward to that, and wondered if he should go somewhere else. She turned around too quickly for him to make that decision.
She flinched when she noticed him there. She didn’t scream or anything, just stared at him for a long time. She put her cereal down on the kitchen island and swallowed. “Gabe?”
He felt a wave of relief that he was still recognizable. “Hi.”
She recoiled. “What’s wrong with you?”
He wondered if he was allowed to tell her. He didn’t care. She was sixteen, she could handle it. “I was…I got really messed up.” He swallowed. “Drugs.”
“Does dad know you’re here?”
The humiliation was overwhelming. “He brought me. He picked me up outside the hospital.”
She was still frowning. “Are you okay? What happened?”
He felt tears pricking the corners of his eyes and his lip wobbled. “I…I tried to kill myself,” he breathed. “I…it was…it wasn’t an accident.” He brought a shaking hand to his mouth. “Everybody thought it was just me partying too hard.” The tears were really coming fast, now. They were rolling down his cheeks and he was helpless to stop them. “I just kept taking pills until I passed out and I kept waking up in hospitals and nobody cared and then dad called me and I was trying to get money out of the ATM.”
His little sister just stood there with her mouth shut. Just watching him cry in the doorway.
“Lily, I still want to die. I’m gonna kill myself,” he admitted, choking on tears and air. “I want dad to come home and take care of me.” He sobbed. “God, but I know he’s at work. He doesn’t fucking care about me.”
Lily opened her mouth and shut it again. She had to think hard. “He’s here. He stayed home today. He’s in his office.”
He wept harder at the thought. What if his father really did care? What if that was the whole reason he’d been invited home? It was almost too good to be true.
He was crying so hard that he couldn’t see. He couldn’t think, either, and he flinched hard when a pair of arms wrapped around him and picked him up. He hated crying, it made him feel even more pathetic than he knew he was, and being picked up and put on his feet to be led somewhere else, it was another reminder that he was nothing. The pain ripped through him in tidal waves.
His father’s arms wrapped around him once again, squeezed firmly, made their very best attempt to comfort him. He couldn’t help but continue to cry until the tears were gone and his legs were weak. It was so embarrassing.
His father rubbed his back. “Feel better?”
Gabe didn’t. He shook his head. He felt worse. With every second that crawled forward, he felt worse.
“What do you need? Food? Are you in pain at all?”
“No,” he muttered. “I don’t need anything.” He pushed away and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “I’m fine.”
Gabe didn’t let him finish. “I need to go home. I’m not being kept here, am I? This isn’t a prison? I need to go home.” He was looking at the floor, couldn’t meet his father’s gaze.
“I can’t let you do that.”
Gabe let his mouth become a thin line as he stared at the floor. “Give me my clothes.”
“They’re being cleaned.”
“I need to go home.” He chewed on his lip and tasted blood. “You have no right to keep me here.”
“I can’t let you kill yourself.”
Gabe took a stuttering breath. “I won’t,” he said, keeping his voice quiet.
“You tried three times, Gabriel, I’m not stupid.”
“Three in two weeks? Three overdoses in two weeks?” His father scoffed. “You’ve been shooting up for years, always been careful, never crossed the line, and now you’ve overdosed three times in the last two weeks.”
Gabe set his jaw. “I got stupid.”
“And I was stupid for enabling you.”
Gabe’s eyes flicked up. “You weren’t even there, I haven’t heard from you in years.”
“You are aware that I’m the one paying off your credit card debt. That your apartment is in my name. That all of your rich friends are children of my rich friends.”
“I don’t need your money.”
“Good, because I canceled your card and put your apartment back on the market.”
Gabe choked on a breath. “Dad, there’s important stuff at my apartment, you can’t sell it, I have to go get my stuff.”
“There is no longer ‘important stuff’ at your apartment.”
Gabe couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t get a breath in. Drugs were the only thing keeping him afloat, and they were just fucking gone. He had no money, no leftover stash, nowhere to live.
“You’re my son, Gabriel. I can’t let you kill yourself.”
Gabe was so tired. He so badly needed a hit of anything. Breath was coming fast. He could stop it. But he couldn’t live like a prisoner. His brain wasn’t working. He still had some cash in his wallet, he figured. He could make it for a few days on his own. He could finish the job. “Please let me go.”
“Son, I can’t do that.”
Gabe got down on his knees, knelt before his father. He looked up, penitent. “Dad, please. I’m begging you. Let me—”
“Let you what? Kill yourself? Go home and shoot up until you’re frothing at the mouth?”
Gabe closed his eyes and lowered his head. “I’ve never asked you for anything, dad. I’ve never asked you to stay home when I was sick, help me with school, buy me shit.” He sighed, he was losing his resolve. “This is the only thing I’ve ever wanted from you.”
His father was quiet. “Gabriel, I was a terrible father. To you, to your sister. I was a terrible husband to your mother. I’ve let you down so many times. Let me make it up to you.”
“By ruining my life?”
“By saving it, son.”
Gabe kept his eyes closed. “I don’t want to be saved. I want to die.”
“I can’t let that happen.”
Gabe wanted to scream at him, but he couldn’t. He broke instead. His shoulders collapsed, he let out a short breath, and he let himself go. “I don’t want this. I will fight you every step of the way.”
“I will be here for you,” his father promised, kneeling in front of him. “I’m not going to abandon you like I did when you were a kid.”
Not having to worry about anything was awesome for about a day. Then the come down started.
Gabe was used to getting itchy between doses. He was used to wanting to rip his eyes out. He wasn’t used to not being able to fix it. No matter how many times he tried to make it out the front door, his father was always there to stop him with a gentle hand on his shoulder.
He even tried running. He was allowed to go out the back door, where the patio and the pool were located, and he was allowed to go for walks in the backyard. He sat with his feet in the pool, most of the time, dreaming about what he’d be doing if he were home. And then he’d start worrying about his apartment and his friends and he’d eye the fence and wonder how long it would take for him to climb over it. It didn’t ever happen. He was too weak to get more than a step up.
He tried to drown himself in the pool, sat at the bottom with tears coming from his eyes and bleeding into the water. He couldn’t make it happen.
He tried to cut himself with the butter knives his dad had foolishly left in the house. They slipped across his wrists without leaving a mark.
He tried to escape in the middle of the night, dressed in nothing but his underwear, dopesick and crazy. The alarm went off, the cops showed up, his dad hired a babysitter.
He was a huge beefy man named Mitch. Mitch had the bitchiest attitude and the biggest biceps and the next time Gabe tried to drown himself or slice his skin open with a broken plate, Mitch was there to stop him. Mitch watched him sleep, made him piss with the door open, and did not ever fucking leave him alone.
Mitch made him eat, made him sleep, made him exercise. Mitch forced him to work through the endless itching and puking and altogether took the place of Gabe’s father. It stung, but it was better than the alternative.
“We have to go down to dinner,” Mitch said, standing over Gabe’s bed. Gabe had the junkie shakes, he was freaking the fuck out, he wasn’t going to dinner. “Get up.”
Gabe flipped him off. “Fuck off.”
“I’m contractually obliged not to fuck off, Gabe. Get up.”
“I can’t.” He was miserable.
“Web MD says otherwise, get up.”
“I don’t want dinner.”
“We made a deal,” Mitch said. “I let you skip lunch, you come down for dinner.”
“Shouldn’t trust a junkie.”
Mitch sighed melodramatically. “I put my job on the line for you every day, Gabe. And you’re just gonna sit there and not make it up to me?”
“Fuck off.” Weaker, this time. He was so weak.
“You get thirty seconds to get out of bed on your own, or I’ll carry you downstairs.”
“Better than walking.”
Gabe heard Mitch’s joints popping and fought a wave of nausea as the babysitter heaved him out of bed. “Little shit,” he muttered, shouldering Gabe’s fragile body.
“Mitch, I’m gonna hurl,” Gabe warned.
“No, you aren’t.”
Gabe’s breath stuttered. “I am.”
“If you puke on me, I’m making you do laundry.”
Gabe’s head was swimming, but he managed to keep it down until they got to the table. Even then, his little sister was there, and he forced himself to not vomit. He realized with growing shame that he was half naked again. He was sweaty and shaking and he felt so sick.
“Hi, Gabe,” Lily said, not looking at him.
Mitch sat down next to him. “Sorry, Lily, he’s decided he’s gonna feel sorry for himself all night.”
Gabe glared down at his empty plate. He hated Mitch, just a little.
When his father came into the room, Gabe did a fantastic job of ignoring him. Mitch pinched him in the side and said, “Be nice.” Gabe squeaked and glanced up at his dad, cringing away from the disappointment and concern in the man’s eyes.
Mitch put entirely too much food on Gabe’s plate. Gabe made a valiant attempt at forcing half of it down. While the adults at the table made pleasant conversation and Gabe moped, Mitch sectioned off a portion of the food on Gabe’s plate and said, “Eat it. That’s for flipping me off.”
Gabe felt a sense of misguided triumph when he puked it all up half an hour later, choking and retching over the toilet while Mitch watched and did nothing to help.
Mitch tucked Gabe into bed a few hours later, making sure the sheets were light on his skin. Gabe couldn’t really handle the pressure or heat of the comforter that was shoved to the foot of the bed. Gabe wondered if Mitch actually cared about him or if it was all just some charade. The guy was getting paid to make Gabe’s life a living hell.
Gabe laid back on his towel with his calves in the pool. The sun was hot on his skin. The water was cool against his legs. It was a little too tempting to slip into the water and find peace at the bottom, but Mitch was watching him, he knew he couldn’t be stupid with Mitch in the room.
He took deep breaths, letting his skin soak up warmth it wouldn’t be able to retain. He was practically cold-blooded lately. He couldn’t stay warm to save his life.
“Mitch,” he called, keeping his voice low so no one else came running. “I need a drink.”
“Go get one, then.”
“I’m too tired.”
“What do you want, coke?”
Gabe looked behind him, smiled, and rubbed at the crook of his arm. “Yes please.” He preferred pills, but the track marks added a slight morbidity to his appearance. Good for shock factor.
Gabe heard the cooler open. “You can choose between cherry, vanilla, or diet.”
“Give me original,” Gabe said. “Plus a syringe, a spoon, and a lighter.”
“Bitch.” Mitch set a can of the diet stuff next to him. “For the princess.”
Gabe sat up, put an elbow behind him to prop him up, and took a long drink from the can. The can was soaking wet from the ice, and the drink was cold in his throat. He put it down and lowered himself back to the ground. “That was really insensitive,” he bitched, “calling it coke.”
“Brand name,” Mitch dismissed. “You’re already jonesing, it’s not like it hurt anything.”
“I’ll offer Pepsi, next time.”
Gabe didn’t respond to that. He just. Closed his eyes and let the sun do its job.
“I’m gonna go piss.”
Gabe didn’t respond.
“Try not to kill yourself for thirty seconds.”
Gabe smiled at the sun and waited for the sliding glass doors to close before slipping into the water and waiting. He floated on his back and let the water kiss his ears. He took deep breaths. He sank under the water. He couldn’t stay under, though, just kept coming back up when he ran out of breath. It was pissing him off. He couldn’t make himself do it. He climbed out of the water a few seconds before Mitch came back.
“Fall in?” the asshole asked.
Gabe just stood up and wrapped his arms around himself. “I want to go inside.”
Mitch wrapped a towel around him. “It’s lunchtime anyway. I know how much you love eating lunch.”
Gabe threw Mitch’s hands off of him and kicked the can of soda over.
“Someone’s feeling better,” Mitch remarked.
“I can’t sleep,” Gabe said, sitting up in his bed and rubbing his arm. Mitch was reading a book in the armchair in the corner.
“Sucks to suck,” Mitch said. “Try harder.”
Gabe threw off the sheets and Mitch closed his book. “I need to get laid.”
“Can’t help you there.”
“Find me a hooker,” Gabe demanded. “Or get over here and suck me off.”
Mitch looked at him with one raised eyebrow. “Not happening.”
Gabe undid his pants and stuck his hand in. He wasn’t hard, but he could get there.
“I’m not gonna watch you, either.”
“Your loss,” Gabe said, pulling his hand out to lick it. “I’m a pro at this.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Mitch said, opening his book again and ignoring Gabe.
It was a tough act to ignore, Gabe made sure of it. He moaned and made disgusting noises. It took a long time, but he finally came. It left him feeling dissatisfied and gross, and he wiped his hand on his shirt and peeled it off.
“Good, you’re done. Now go to sleep.”
Gabe was still panting, but he put his head down on the pillow and tucked himself back in his pants. “You’re a horrible audience.”
“Probably because this is a really good book.”
“I’m more interesting than a book.”
“Not this book.”
“You’re really not attracted to me?”
Mitch looked up. “You look like a corpse.”
It didn’t hurt, exactly, but it felt like a wake-up call. “Rude,” he muttered.
“You’re gonna have to get straight before a hooker’s even gonna look at you.”
Gabe swallowed and turned over.
“And you’re gonna have to become real acquainted with that right hand of yours in the meantime.”
Gabe shuddered. “I don’t like listening to you talk about me masturbating. It’s creepy.”
“You just jacked off in front of me.”
Gabe had been watching the cook make dinner while Mitch took some much-needed time to himself, when the stupid guy left his knife kit on the counter for anyone to steal from. There was a tiny little sharp thing that was perfect for Gabe to slip into his pocket. He felt lighter all through dinner.
Late that night, when Mitch had custody and was snoozing by Gabe’s bed, Gabe snuck out from under the blankets and into the bathroom. He locked the door behind him as Mitch was sleepily asking where he was going.
Gabe knew it wasn’t foolproof, Mitch had no problems knocking down a door, but he had bought himself some time.
He pulled out the knife and looked at it for a long time. It felt like power in his hands.
The doorknob jiggled. “You know you’re not allowed to lock the door, Gabe. Open up.”
Gabe ignored him in favor of savoring the way his breathing picked up. The adrenaline was getting him higher than he’d been in a week.
“Gabe, open the door.”
He pulled off his shirt and got on his knees while Mitch pounded away at the door, demanding that he open up. Gabe just ignored him.
“Stay away from the door, kid, I’m gonna break it down.”
Gabe didn’t have an ounce of self-preservation still with him, and he didn’t move, just stared at the knife in his hands, unable to do anything about it. He knew he was running out of time and that he should hide the knife so he’d be able to use it when he actually had the guts to do more than just stare. He didn’t have time for that, though, because Mitch was breaking down the door, and Gabe was getting flattened under two hundred pounds of muscle.
He whimpered at the weight, and at the knife wedged into the soft underside of his face. It hadn’t gone all the way through, because he couldn’t feel it under his tongue, but he could definitely feel it restricting his movements.
Mitch got off of him almost immediately, and flipped him over, still sitting on his midsection. Mitch said, “Shit,” miserably, and grabbed a hand towel. He slowly pulled the blade out of Gabe’s chin and threw it into the bathtub before pressing the towel to the freely bleeding wound.
“I told you to back up from the door, fucker.”
Gabe was relishing the pain. He had his eyes closed. His mouth was open a little, and he wanted to cut more, deeper.
“Shit.” Mitch pulled the towel away from Gabe’s chin and looked at the wound. “Shit.”
“Bad?” Gabe asked, getting a little high on the endorphins.
“I’m sure it’s not as bad as you hoped it would be.”
Gabe made a little disappointed face.
“I hate that you have no problem with this. I could lose my job.”
Gabe shut his eyes again. “I don’t care. Dad should’ve hired two people anyway. One for night and one for day. You can’t handle me.”
“I can handle you,” Mitch said. “I just can’t handle you for thirty-six hours a day.”
Gabe hummed. “Gotta sleep,” he agreed. “Gotta take a piss.”
Mitch was quiet. “You’re a real asshole, you know that?”
“Don’t be mean to the suicidal guy.”
“The suicidal guy is a huge bitch.” Mitch sniffed. “Hold still.”
“Why won’t you just let me die? It’s what I want.”
“Because your dad is paying me a lot of money to keep you alive.”
“When are you gonna get off me?”
Mitch sighed. “As soon as I can figure out how to restrain you without hurting you.” He frowned. “You’re asking too many questions.”
“I’m not gonna go for the knife, you threw it in the tub.”
Mitch pulled the towel away for another second. “Yeah. Whatever.” He put the towel to the side and slid off of Gabe. “Sit up. Slowly.”
Gabe did as he was told, propping himself up on his hands.
Mitch stood up and pulled Gabe to his feet. “We are going to go back to bed, now.”
Gabe frowned. “I don’t want to go back to bed.”
“Yeah? Well, I don’t care.”
“You can’t make me.” Never mind the fact that Mitch was actively making him.
Mitch stopped and held Gabe at arm's length. “You have no idea how many people are trying to help you, you ungrateful little shit.”
“I really fuckin’ hate you, man,” Gabe muttered to Mitch. “Like, I hate you so fucking much right now. This is…this is cruel.”
Mitch continued to peruse the craft beers while he left Gabe handcuffed to the fucking shopping cart.
“This is unreasonably cruel.”
Mitch finished filling up the empty cardboard four-pack and set it in the cart. “To the dairy aisle.”
Gabe had tried standing still, refusing to push the cart, and that hadn’t worked. He’d tried to wriggle out of the handcuff, that hadn’t worked. He’d tried to tell an employee that he was being held against his will but Mitch had just flashed an ID of some kind, so that hadn’t worked either. Gabe just had to push the fucking cart and do what Mitch wanted.
Gabe started putting random shit into the cart, starting with a bottle of cheap wine. Mitch didn’t even blink. Gabe put a jar of hot fudge into the cart. Mitch didn’t care. Gabe stood still again, an act of protest, and Mitch kept walking.
“I’ll leave you here,” he said, disappearing down an aisle.
Two can play at that fucking game, Gabe thought, reaching into the cart for the wine and peeling off the plastic. “See if he leaves me alone after this.”
And Gabe had to give it to him, Mitch was able to hold out for a remarkably long time before appearing with another cart full of the rest of the groceries. By that point, Gabe had finished the bottle of wine, drank it straight down, like a fucking carton of OJ. He was sitting on the ground against a freezer, with his arm in the air, stuck to the bar of the cart.
The look on Mitch’s face made Gabe burst into a fit of giggles. He felt so happy.
“Dude,” he said, choking as Mitch pulled him to his feet. “That’s gonna teach you, am I right?”
“We should have a party,” Gabe suggested one night. He was staring up at the ceiling, flat on his back. The room was dark, he was supposed to be asleep. He wasn’t, though. Simply because he didn’t want to be.
Mitch didn’t answer. No one did.
“I’m thinking of streamers, hot girls in bikinis, strawberry daiquiris.” He sighed. “Guacamole. A real pool party.”
“You’re on thin ice, Gabe,” Mitch muttered. “You’re not getting a fucking pool party.”
Gabe sighed again. “I never get anything I want.”
“Mostly because you want a bullet in your brain and a handful of pills.” He paused. “Go to sleep.”
Gabe knew that Mitch was right. In fact, with every day that passed, Gabe wanted that bullet more than ever. It felt good. Stable. Something to hold on to when the rest of the world was turbulent and unsteady.
“I’m not tired.”
“Well, I am.”
Gabe snuck out of the room after Mitch was definitely asleep. He’d been doing that more and more often, lately. Mitch was exhausted, Gabe was taking advantage of that.
He walked down the hallway that had the bedrooms on it, hesitated at his dad’s room, and then kept walking.
He found himself in the kitchen, cobbling something together. He wasn’t hungry, but their microwave was on silent mode and he figured he could make something edible before he was caught and returned to his bed.
We went with macaroni and cheese, instead, and he watched the water boil for a long time before adding in the noodles. Boiling water was intense.
While he was stirring in the cheese, he heard a small voice behind him, calling his name, and he whirled around guiltily.
He swallowed. “Lily. Hi.” He was barely dressed, wearing nothing but a pair of striped briefs.
She looked disgusted. “What are you doing?”
He gestured to the pot hesitantly. “I’m just…macaroni. I got hungry.”
She walked over to him and grabbed the pot off the stove and held it to herself protectively. “You’re not supposed to be in here alone.”
He swallowed again. “I know.”
“It’s dangerous, you might hurt yourself.”
“Yeah, I know. I don’t…I wasn’t going to. I was just hungry.”
She put the pot down on the table and wordlessly got out a bowl and a fork. Once she’d fixed a bowl of macaroni, she looked at him. “Let’s go back to your room.”
“Mitch will have a baby with rage. A rage baby.”
“Where do you want to sit, then?”
“Do you know the security code to let me outside?”
She grimaced and nodded.
He led her to the patio where the pool was, and sat down on one of the lounge chairs. The night was cool and still, and the pool was covered by a cover that Gabe couldn’t get off if he tried.
Lily handed him the bowl and he went to town, lounging in the chair under the sky. There weren’t any stars that he could see, just clouds, but it was still nice.
He enjoyed his macaroni, savoring every last bite. This was the fancy, organic shit, too. Because Daddy had money and wasn’t going to let his baby daughter eat Kraft after school.
“A kid offered me marijuana, once,” Lily said out of nowhere “One my friends.”
Gabe looked at her. “Yeah?”
She was looking down at the concrete between her knees. “I said no.”
“Cool.” He didn’t really know what to say. Weed was a morning time drug for him. He smoked a bowl when he woke up. It wasn’t exactly hardcore.
“Is that how it started for you?” she asked, trying to sound polite.
He smiled. Nostalgia. “No, it started in college with adderall. I couldn’t keep up with the work, so I self-medicated. I was a good, straight kid until college.” He took a bite. “And then it became coke. Eventually. A little farther down the line.”
“Wow,” she said. “You did cocaine?”
He smiled again. “I’ve done pretty much everything.”
“I tried it once. Didn’t like it. Didn’t let myself get hooked on it.” He put the bowl down in his lap. “It’s expensive. I would just buy really cheap cocaine or other pills that I could get without spending too much money. And then I’d take as many as I wanted.” He sniffed. “And booze. A lot of booze.”
“I tried beer one time,” Lily confessed. “I didn’t like it.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty bad until you get used to it. But I stay away from beer, stick to liquor. And cocktails. And I like mead, it’s made out of honey.”
“You can make alcohol out of honey?”
“Yeah, and it’s good. It’s really sweet.”
They sat in the quiet as a squirrel ran across the yard beyond the pool.
Mitch slammed open the sliding glass door. “I swear to fucking god,” he grumbled, storming over to Gabe, “I‘m going to chain you to the bed.” He yanked the bowl out of Gabe’s hands. “What is this, fucking macaroni?”
Lily just watched as Gabe was dragged away. He couldn’t help but feel a little bit sorry for himself. Especially when Mitch pulled out the handcuffs again and snapped one end to Gabe’s arm and one end to the headboard.
“Pray I don’t lose the keys,” Mitch growled, before getting comfy in his cot.
Gabe scowled at Mitch’s back and tugged at his arm. There was a clinking sound, but no give. He was stuck to the bed with one arm uncomfortably stretched toward the headboard.
Part of Gabe’s miserable existence was that he had to spend a lot of time outside. Mitch thought it would be good for him to get exercise. Gabe chose swimming because he thought it would give him a chance to be close to the demons, plus he was pretty sure it would be easy as shit, just floating around in the water, enjoying the peace.
But no. Mitch had a goddamn whistle and he blew it hard whenever Gabe paused for even a minute to get his breath together. And Mitch made him do laps, which sucked ass. There was no room for peaceful memento mori when he was swimming back and forth, muscles burning.
“Keep swimming!” Mitch cheered, sitting at the edge of the pool.
But Gabe was out of breath, standing up to his hips in the shallow end, clutching at his chest and panting hard. He flipped Mitch the bird and got an awfully shrill whistle in return.
“Back in the water, bitch!”
Gabe stayed put, breathing hard. He hated his fucking life. He was out of shape, miserably so, and he was being forced to exercise by a guy who only cared that he was safe so he could cash his paychecks.
“Back in the water, or you’re running two miles on that treadmill!”
Gabe dared him, splashed some water in his direction, and found himself handcuffed to the treadmill doing five miles per hour.
He spat at Mitch, and Mitch turned the treadmill up, wiping the spit off his face with his shirt.
After just a few minutes, Gabe was panting. He was humiliated and winded and very thirsty. His body was crying out to him in pain. But the handcuffs, now padded with fluffy pink fabric, were relentless.
Mitch switched the treadmill off as soon as Gabe was almost to his breaking point. He uncuffed Gabe, and let him sit down.
“Okay,” he said, barely giving Gabe twenty seconds to relax. “Shower time.”
Gabe hated bathing. He’d been a little priss back in his party days, but now he had to shower with the bathroom door open, it had been removed, and he was only allowed ten minutes.
“Fucking kidding me?” Gabe asked, still panting. “I can barely stand up.”
“Sucks to be a drug-addicted wimp,” Mitch said, tugging on his shoulder. “Shower or twenty more laps in the pool. Your choice.”
Gabe was tempted to choose the pool, confident that he could catch a break if Mitch wasn’t willing to get wet.
“Pull any of that shit from earlier, I cuff you to the treadmill again.”
Gabe was humiliated, he was exhausted, his body was aching. He chose the shower.
Once he was under the water, though, he felt a lot better. It was hot and relaxing. He could actually feel it untangling knots in his body. It was magical.
All too soon, Mitch was tapping on the shower door and telling him his time was up.
“Come on,” Gabe whined, letting the water run over his sore eyelids. “I’m enjoying this.”
“No,” Mitch said. “Out of the shower. Come on.”
“No,” Gabe said, firmly. “I’m taking a goddamn shower. I get more than five minutes.”
“You get what you’re given, kid. And you were given five minutes.” Mitch opened the door and shut off the water and Gabe just turned it back on. “Gabe,” Mitch warned.
“I want to stay in the fucking shower, Mitch.”
Mitch reached in and grabbed Gabe’s skinny arms and started pulling, while Gabe protested, voice rising in both pitch and volume.
“Stop!” Gabe barked, struggling, holding onto the shower walls. “No!”
“You need to let the fuck go,” Mitch said, voice level. He was way stronger than Gabe. “You do what the fuck I say; you’re an addict, you don’t get to make decisions.”
“It’s not fucking cocaine, it’s a fucking shower!” Gabe shrieked, feet slipping on the tiles. “Let me the fuck go! Let me go!”
Mitch grabbed Gabe’s waist and hoisted him over his shoulder. Gabe continued to kick and scream.
“Put me down! It’s just a fucking shower!”
Later, once Gabe had calmed down and was letting Mitch patch up the gash on his leg, he was able to wonder. “What the fuck?”
Mitch frowned, he was getting wrinkles. “How many times did you think about doing a line, today?”
“As many as usual?”
Gabe shrugged. “I dunno.”
“I try to keep you busy, exhausted, ready to pass out. That way, you can start using your brain for anything else. Anything but fucking coke.”
“Way to fucking go,” Gabe muttered, wincing as a piece of gauze poked him right where it hurt. “Now it’s all I can think about.”