I maneuver myself into a sitting position, shedding my itchy pink blanket. I'm cold again. Always so fucking cold.
"Yeah," I mutter in response to the nervously shifting figure in my doorway. "Just shut the door behind you. So we don't get seen, I mean," I clarify hurriedly. "I'm not going to try anything, I promise. Fuck… I feel like a jerk, Robbie. I'm so sorry..."
"It's… it's okay," he replies, shutting the door quietly behind him and walking slowly toward me. He takes a seat across from me on the unoccupied bed, facing me. He wrings his hands nervously in his lap. "I just… I wasn't expecting you to… to do that. There. I mean… in that room, with—with your… your foot."
I sigh, staring down into my own lap. "My hormones ran amuck and took over my thinking process. I was just flirting, playing around. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. I'm sorry."
"No, I – you didn't. I mean… well…you did… just, that room, anyone cou-could have walked in or—or seen us, and I… I sort of freaked out. Public places… y-y'know… make me nervous."
I eye him warily, biting his lip, blushing, staring down into his own lap. "So it wasn't what I did, it was that I did it in the dayroom?" I ask skeptically.
"Y-yeah, I – I mean… well… yeah. And… your foot. I didn't expect you to-- to do that with your foot. It's-- it's okay though." He glances up at me, eyebrows knitted.
"Are you sure?"
"Nate," he pleads. "I'm sure. Really. It's okay."
I don't believe him. "I'm sorry," I repeat. "I'm an asshole."
I blink, and stare. Did Robbie just yell at me? Meek, introverted, stuttering Robbie?
"Uhh. Right. Sorry?"
"Stop! Shit, I said it's okay and it's okay!"
Wow. He yelled and he cursed. I am taken aback. I blink once, twice, a third time. My jaw opens to speak, but nothing comes out, so I close it. I don't know what to say. He sounded angry, but he doesn't look angry. Just frustrated.
He lets out a short, nervous laugh. "You—you sound like me. I guess I-I get why people get so... annoyed with me. Not—not that I'm annoyed with you, I just… I mean I… I don't know. Just don't say 'sorry' anymore, okay?"
"Alright." I pause, gathering my thoughts. "Though I'm tempted to apologize for apologizing, I think I can restrain myself," I joke, trying to lighten the mood. Then my thoughts turn slightly more serious. "It's just that I really don't want to do something you're not… interested in, and… upset you…" I trail off.
"I-I told you I'd… I'd, y'know, tell you if you… did something I didn't like." Robbie says gently, but nervously, standing, coming toward me and sitting beside me, perching cautiously on the edge of my lumpy mattress. "Why—why are you so… y'know… freaked out?"
My mouth goes a little dry as I try to swallow down the nervous lump in my throat, and this time I'm the one averting my eyes from his gaze as my abdominal muscles tighten in apprehension and I look at my plaid-clad legs. This conversation is venturing into sensitive territory -- I'm not sure if I'm ready to fully release some of the deepest, darkest skeletons in my closet to someone I've only known a few days. Yet I feel such the hypocrite; it was me after all who insisted to Robbie that friends confide in one another.
"N-Nate?" comes a cautious prod.
"Errh," I cough, then clear my throat. "Yeah. Ah. Well." I fiddle with the end of the drawstring on my pajama pants, twisting, picking, pulling at stray threads, and I idly wonder how a drawstring got past the Contraband Gestapo in the nurse's station. I could fashion a noose and hang myself with a string, or so says Contraband Law. But I digress.
"I… ehhm…" I try to continue, but I don't know what to say. My stomach is clenched up in a tight little ball of trepidation and my mind isn't forming coherent sentences -- I feel so put on-the-spot, so suddenly; my mouth's gone dry and my mind's gone blank and I feel a desperate itch to say something – anything – but what? I, ever the loquacious one, am almost never at a loss for words, but for fuck's sake, what the hell am I supposed to say here?
"You, um… you don't have to—to tell me if-- if you don't want to," Robbie murmurs, the sound of dejection lurking just beneath the surface, though I can tell he's trying to keep the emotion out of his tone. I feel a tentative hand reach up and lay gently on my shoulder, and very abruptly I feel more of those damnable thoughts, the ones I can't put to words, welling up and threatening to spill out of me. My eyes burn and I try to hold back the choking noise but I can't; it escapes my mouth without my consent, and I can feel Robbie's gaze burning into me as he slides his arm slowly around my shoulder, scoots toward me and pulls me gently to his side.
I loop my arm around the back of Robbie's waist and hiccup, staring straight ahead of me, knowing if I blink, if I so much as flutter my eyelids those hot salty tears are going to run down my face and embarrass me, let out all the bottled up fear, the anger, the resentment… the shame I attempt so hard every day to ignore and repress.
Fuck. He's going to find out sooner or later, and I can tell he's hurt that I haven't confided as much in him as he has in me.
"I…" I sound strangled as I stare at my flat-open palms resting on my lap, but manage to clear my throat and choke out, "I've had… some… negative experiences..." There's a distinct crack in my voice on the last word, and my fingers twitch of their own accord, ineffectively, finding nothing upon which to perch. I loathe my inability to control my body's involuntary reactions. My eyes burn – but I'm not going to blink; I simply refuse. There's something about Robbie's puzzled silence, this mild naïveté that he embodies, that makes me doubt that he understands the weight of my words. I don't know if I want him to.
"N-negative… experiences…?" he trails off. Out of the corner of my bleary eye I see him fidget uncomfortably, confusion creasing his brow. I don't want to be having this conversation. There's a constricted feeling in my chest that won't go away. Why did I open this despicable can of worms? Perhaps I'm some kind of a masochist; maybe I subconsciously take pleasure in putting myself into these uncomfortable situations. Now that I've said it, I'm going to have to talk about it.
Oh Jesus Harold Christ on a rubber crutch, save me from myself…
But it isn't my sarcastic internal prayer that rescues me; it's the sound of keys jingling outside my door. Robbie glances to me with panic, seizing in place for a brief instant before taking a roll over my bed to duck and lay down behind it. I stifle a snicker. He's learning already, I think to myself with a smirk as my door creaks open.
"Nate?" Lindsey inquires, poking her mulleted head into my room.
"Lindsey," I respond mildly, my tone cool, calm and collected despite my wildly thudding heart, which threatens to violently thrash its way directly out of my chest. Robbie is hiding behind the very bed I sit upon – how is he? I wonder indolently, unable to check behind me without making it obvious that something is back there.
"Your mother called." The stocky orderly's tone is flat. "She said she's sorry that she's late, there's an accident on the freeway and she'll be delayed."
"Noon already?" I ask, voice colored with distaste.
"On the dot," Lindsey confirms, standing squarely in my doorway.
"Well, thanks, Linds," I respond dismissively, hoping the female orderly gets the point.
She gives me a skeptical look. "Are you okay, Nate?"
I try not to cringe or cry or laugh hysterically – any of which I feel is a very feasible option at this point – and retain my nonchalant poker face.
"Absolutely," I say, perhaps a little too enthusiastic, in retrospect.
"Uh-huh. Well." She pauses for a moment, scrutinizing me, arms crossed, her piercing gaze rather like the headlights of an approaching SUV to a woodland creature. "If you happen to see Robert, you might want to mention to him that his father is here. He doesn't seem to be in his own room." Lindsey's expression is rather pointed.
"If I happen across him I will gladly comply," I respond, full of artificial cheer.
With a roll of her eyes, Lindsey steps out of my room and leaves the door cracked slightly open, and I let out a breath I didn't know I had been holding. I'm fairly sure she knew Robbie was hiding in here, though I am infinitely glad she cut me a break. I turn to get on my hands and knees on my mattress now, leaning over the side of the bed to look at Robbie on the floor, squeezed in tight against the bed frame, laying flat on his back, arms at his sides, fists clenched, eyes tightly shut. He isn't blushing, as I've come to accept as the norm when he's flustered – instead he looks a bit peaked.
"Robbie?" My voice is cautious. "Are you okay?"
Those worried brown eyes open, and stare blankly at the ceiling for a moment before turning their focus towards me.
"M-m-my… um… m-my d-dad's here," he mutters tightly, with a look of pleading desperation as he pulls himself into a sitting position.
I turn and sit on my bed, facing Robbie on the floor. I am intensely curious as to what it is about this man that makes Robbie go ghostly white at the mere mention of his presence. I've a got gnawing suspicion that his father is a major part of Robbie's lack of self-esteem and intense fear of the world around him.
"Yes he is. And my mother will be here shortly, I presume," I confirm with distaste, my upper lip curling back slightly. "The most pertinent piece of advice I can give is to just go get it over with."
"I-I guess so." He doesn't look very convinced. In fact, he looks as though he's about to be ill all over the black-and-white checkered linoleum, his complexion quite pallid by this point.
I stand, and offer Robbie a hand up. Unenthusiastically, he takes it, and stands, retracting his hand immediately to tightly hug his own abdomen.
"Are you gonna be okay?" I ask, reaching out to put a hand on his upper arm. He flinches a little, and his arm twitches, as if he wants to pull away from my physical contact but is restraining himself.
He stares intently at the floor. "I-I-I…. Um… I'll be f-fine."
"Well… obviously you know where to locate me, should the need arise. Right?"
He gives a tight, barely noticeable nod, his eyes still focused on the linoleum underfoot. Reluctantly I let my hand fall from its purchase on Robbie's arm and head toward the door, my nervous, silent companion in tow. We exit the room and proceed down the hall, heading toward the Unit B entrance door, where Clara is standing, unlocking it.
We draw nearer as the door opens, and in steps a slightly taller, somewhat more grizzled and worn version of Robbie with a buzz cut. His slacks are starched, pressed and creased, his shirt a long-sleeved, collared button-up dress number, tucked in of course, and his black dress shoes have an expensive sort of just-shined gleam to them. He's got the posture and facial expression of a man with a broomstick shoved directly up his ass.
"Bob," the man greets curtly, giving Robbie a rather sour up-and-down glance. My presence evidently goes completely unnoticed, as the older man doesn't as much as blink in my direction. Holy lack of common courtesy, Batman!
"H-h-hi D-Dad," I hear an almost whisper from Robbie beside me. I turn to look at him, his arms tightly hugging himself, grabbing fistfuls of his t-shirt, staring at the floor, still with that ghostly complexion.
"Speak up, boy," his father responds sharply.
"Y-y-yes, sir," comes a louder, but somewhat strangled-sounding response.
"The two of you can visit in the dayroom, or use one of the visiting rooms if you'd like," Clara offers in a practiced, uninterested manner.
"We'd like a little privacy," Robbie's father says flatly, giving his son a steely glare as the grey-haired orderly leads the pair of them to a room labeled 'Visitation 1' just two doors down from my own bedroom, takes the key-ring from her pocket and unlocks it, opening it to let them inside.
"The door needs to be left open," Clara drones as Robbie's father goes to shut it. "Sorry, unit rules." He gives her a piercing look of disapproval before turning it, presumably onto his son inside the room.
"Fine." The older man's voice is cold. He leaves the door cracked open and the tiny sliver of a view I have lets me see him take a seat in one of the blue plastic chairs, wooden desk separating him from Robbie on the other side, who I can't see no matter how I crane my neck. Damn it all.
"Nate, you need to get back to the dayroom or to your own room," Clara scolds as she passes me on her way back into the nurse's station. "I don't care which, just get out of the hallway. You're loitering."
"We're permitted to loiter during visiting hours," I protest half-heartedly, though I start shuffling my way back in the direction of my own room. As I reach my doorway, I turn to see the nurse's station door shutting behind Clara, and I smirk.
Quickly and quietly I tiptoe down the hall back toward the visitation room. As I approach I can hear the muffled sounds of a gravelly, coarse version of Robbie's own mild voice. I creep up toward the door while being careful to stay out of view from that little shard of open space in the doorjamb. My ears perk up as I come within inches of my target.
"Do you know how much this whole shenanigan is inconveniencing me, Bob?" the voice demands, quiet but harsh. "I had to tell the office I needed some personal time off. And not paid time, Bob. Do you know what that means?" He pauses, but I don't hear a response before he continues. "It means I'll have to work overtime to make up for this. For your fuck-up. I'm going to have to put in more hours at a job I hate, so my lazy, pathetic excuse for a son can take a vacation from the classes I pay cold, hard-earned cash for." The voice raises, becomes more dominating, threatening. "Not even real classes, boy, internet classes! Why the hell am I busting my ass to pay for your education when you don't get up off your pansy ass and go to a real class? You won't pick a major, you don't get a god damn job like your brother so you can contribute anything useful to the household – you sit around all day in the basement on that fucking computer, the computer I paid for, doing what Bob? What?! What am I paying for, chat rooms and internet porn?! Am I paying for you to eat sleeping pills like some god damned attention-whoring teenage girl whose daddy won't buy her the right prom dress?!" the voice mocks furiously.
There's a pause in the one-sided conversation, and I can hear Robbie's shaky gasping hyperventilation. I am in revolted awe at the way his father is barking insults at him when he's clearly already distressed – he just tried to kill himself for fuck's sake, can't the man ease up a little?
"Answer me, Bob!" his father demands. "Why am I wasting my retirement money on this?"
"I – I – I --" Robbie sounds choked up and terrified. It feels as though someone's got my chest in a vice, and I struggle against the urge to burst unannounced into the room, pull Robbie into my arms and get him away from this brutal parental figure.
"You, you, you, what?! Quit blubbering like a yellow-bellied faggot! Man up and answer me!" There's a loud bang – I think Robbie's father just slammed a fist on the wooden desktop.
"I – I – I'm s-s-sorry!" Robbie yelps. "I-I-I…"
"I don't want apologies, Bob, I want to know what the hell is wrong with you! What made you think there wouldn't be consequences for your stupid, childish antics?"
"I-I-I…" Robbie's breath is coming in harsh gasps now. "I-I th-thought – I-I thought –"
"You thought what? You thought you could get out of your responsibilities for a while if you played the victim?"
"I-I th-thought I was g-g-gonna die!" I hear Robbie's voice crack as he sobs out a reply, and my heart breaks for him at the obvious anguish in his words.
"Ugh," comes a disgusted sounding noise from his father. "Look at this. Look at yourself, boy! Sobbing like a little girl with a skinned knee, over what? What's so god damned hard about your life, Bob? You don't go to work, you don't go to school, you hardly leave the house, you don't pay rent, you don't pay the bills – I give you everything and this is how you repay me?"
I can hear Robbie trying to stifle the sounds of his pain as he chokes and gasps for air. My fists clench at my sides, only my own common sense keeping me from bursting into the room – to what point and purpose, I don't know. I want so desperately to tell his father to promptly vacate the premises – or Get The Fuck Out, as I'd more likely say in the heat of the moment. But if the man can treat his own son this way, what would he do to me?
"Christ," scoffs the man. "Your mother would roll over in her grave if she could see you now, do you know that? She would roll right over in shame knowing she wasted her own life to give birth to such a panty-waisted little sissy."
"I-I'm s-s-sorry… I'm s-sorry…"
I grit my teeth and a fire burns in my gut. What right does this man have to say something so mean-spirited to such a kind, timid young man with so many burdens on his shoulders already? I don't think I can listen to much more of this without taking some kind of action. I don't know what action I could possibly take that would have any positive impact, but hell's bells, something needs to be done.
"Sorry doesn't fix anything, Bob! Sorry doesn't pay the bills and sorry won't do the schoolwork you're going to have to make up when you fix whatever pansy-assed head problems you've given yourself – which had better be soon, boy, because my insurance will only cover just so much time in this cracker-factory, and you really are a lunatic if you think I'm paying for this hippy-dippy head-shrinking bullshit out of pocket."
Abruptly I hear the scrape of plastic chair against linoleum and the middle-aged sour-puss version of Robbie is out of the room and in front of me in a New York second. For a split moment, he appears as startled as I feel as he glances down at me from his looming height, but the look quickly turns to disdainful scrutiny. His eyes don't have the same warmth, the softness of Robbie's. They're cold, steely grey-brown, glowering at me as though I were some sort of cockroach invading his kitchen. I feel as though him squashing me with the sole of one of those polished black loafers isn't entirely out of the question. The glare is short-lived, however, and I don't have time to react before he turns and stiffly, rapidly strides down the hall to the nurse's station and raps sharply on the plexi-glass window. I am left standing in the hallway, slightly slack-jawed and staring after him.
"Mr. Campbell?" comes Clara's mildly surprised query as she slides the plexi-glass open, surely not expecting the man back at the porthole to her domain so soon after his arrival in Loony Land. "What can I do for you?"
"I want to speak with my son's doctor immediately." His rigid, unblinkingly harsh demeanor lends no emotion to his icy words.
"Well I'm sorry sir, but the doctor isn't in today. You'll have to set up an appointment when he comes in on Monday. Is that all?"
He lets out dissatisfied grunt. "I'll be leaving now."
"Just one moment, I'll let you out."
Just as abruptly as he had entered, Robbie's father was gone, Unit B door clicking shut behind him.
And there we have it, folks. I'll make this author's note short… thank you all for still reading, though I know I tend to take a long time to update. I just want to thank everyone who has reviewed, or favorite'd, or put this story on story alert. You guys are all completely and utterly awesome, and I love your feedback – I thrive on it! It encourages me to write, and makes me all excitable when I get a Review Alert email. So please, don't hesitate to offer up a review, praise, constructive criticism, anything at all!