A/N: This was meant to be a one-shot, but upon editing it grew quite a bit from its original length. So, I have split it into two parts. Any feedback is greatly appreciated. Thanks!
The next day started just as every other did for Brittany. She had to wake up at nearly five o'clock in the morning in order to make it to school by nine. Her torturous morning routine took between two and three and a half hours every morning, depending if it was a good day or a bad day.
That day was a bad day. She brushed her teeth for forty minutes, well past the point when her gums bled. It was disturbing how, like with all of her other compulsions, she went into a trance-like state, only focused on the task at hand.
Specks of dirt, she thought, her toothbrush held in her trembling hand. Filthy pieces of plaque…I can't get rid of them. Almost unconsciously, she began to brush even harder. Her mind didn't even register the pain.
Then, at eight o 'clock she had to eat breakfast. Brittany realized that brushing her teeth before she ate was absurd for someone who obsessed over it so much, but brushing her teeth after just felt…wrong. She marched downstairs and sat down at the kitchen table.
"Good morning, sweetie," her mother said. "Dad's gone already."
Brittany's mother was a pretty woman, but that was often overshadowed by how tired she always looked. She was already an easily stressed person, and having a daughter like Brittany didn't help matters. She always joked that Brittany's OCD had driven them both to need medication. Anyone who knew her well knew that she was only trying to hide her own pain at seeing her daughter as an outcast not only in her school, but also to herself. She often wondered how it must feel for her to have absolutely no control over her own actions.
Brittany and her mother were both silent. They both knew what was going to happen next, and they both dreaded it.
"What would you like for breakfast, Brittany?" she said, sounding defeated.
Brittany shrugged vacantly. Already her mind was racing.
Are the dishes clean enough? What soap did Mom use to wash her hands? Did she get under her nails, too? Tons of germs can hide under your nails…
Her mother took a new box of cereal from the cupboard and very deliberately opened it in front of her daughter.
"Did you see that? It was sealed, dear," she said. She hoped that Brittany saw it, or at least believed her that morning. There were some days where they had to force Brittany to eat because she was sure that the food had been tampered with in some way and they that would all drop dead if they ate so much as a single bite of it.
Brittany only twitched at the extra "T" in her mother's sentence and mentally said 'Is' to herself to even it out.
Then, Mrs. Lane poured the cereal into a bowl and placed it in front of Brittany.
I wonder if the company packaged the cereal correctly. What if one of their workers was sick and coughed on it and now I'm going to catch whatever they had? I could die!
Though the question was redundant after so many years, Brittany's mother asked it anyways.
"Would you like some milk this morning?"
Brittany twitched again. That, to she thought to even out the extra "I"s. Brittany despised milk, and all other dairy products. How could anyone stand to eat something that came from that part of the cow? And how on Earth did the farmers milk the cows without catching Mad Cow disease? It was a wonder her parents weren't infected. Or her, for that matter…
Picking up the corn flakes individually, Brittany ate them. She trusted her hand-washing skills far more than she did her mother's dishwashing. A small well formed in the cereal as she ate only those pieces that weren't touching the bowl directly.
When Brittany finished eating it was 8:40. She and her mother got into the small red car parked in front of their house and drove to school. By the time they got there, they heard the first bell ringing and saw students running hither and thither in search of their lockers and classrooms.
Brittany undid her seatbelt, said "Goodbye" to her mother, and ran--careful not to step on any lines--to her locker. Then, in the abandoned hallway, her ritual began.
Open, close. Open, close.
"... Seventeen… eighteen…"
Is, she thought to correct the excess "T" in "seventeen."
But that day would not be like all the others, for all that it seemed like it. Just when Brittany was about to finish with her ritual, someone spoke to her and broke her timing.
Now it's ruined… she thought, almost in tears. Now I have to start over again.
She twitched and turned around. Standing in front of her was a boy about the same age as her, though a few inches taller. His brown hair was tussled and he looked nervous to be talking to her. Upon further inspection, Brittany realized that he was the boy who had ran into her the day before, causing her to step on a line in the floor.
"What do you want?" Is, is.
He seemed lost for words, and trembled with nerves.
"Look, I don't have all day--just get it over with, will you?" Is, she added mentally to the end of her sentence.
Brittany was now shaking just as much as the boy was but for an altogether different reason. She was desperate to get back to her locker and finish her ritual. She had never paused for so long in the middle of one of her habits, and she made a mental note never to do it again. The pain she felt was nearly as intense as that she had felt the previous day.
He blanched at her harsh tone and his mouth hung open slightly.
To, to, she thought, with another twitch.
"I know how you feel…" he said slowly. He stared at his feet and was wringing his hands uncomfortably.
"Yeah, right," she snorted. God, how many times had she seen that one? Try to sympathize with her, then pow!--a bucket of glue falls on her head, or she gets hit with a barrage of water balloons. She wasn't falling for it that time.
"I know what you have," he said. He looked at her desperately and said softly, "I don't open and close my locker like you do, but I alphabetize everything inside of it." His voice grew stronger with every word just as Brittany's surprise did. "And I count my steps wherever I go--I've walked all the way to school, and then had to go home and start over because I lost count. I've done that nearly a dozen times now--and I live five miles away from here!"
"I-I…" Brittany said in shock. That, she thought, followed by, This can't possibly be a joke… how could anyone comprehend how badly it can cripple you, how much it breaks you? But… I can tell by the look in his eyes that…he has it. No--it has him, just like it has me.
"When I first heard the stories about you…I was happy," he said.
"Happy?" Brittany said, taken aback and more than a little confused.
"Not--not like that," he said, realizing how rude he must have sounded. "I mean, I was happy because for the first time in my life I didn't feel alone. All my life I've been told that there's thousands of other people just like me, but… I never believed it. I mean, how can--"
"How can anyone else be as messed up as me?" Brittany finished for him. She smiled at him and closed her locker. Although the voice in her head told her to open it again, then shut it, then open it dozens of times over, she ignored it with all of her strength. This time she would not give in. This time, her OCD would not win.
He could see her pain and effort in her face and gasped at her. "Did you just… stop?" That was the only word he could think of to use.
"Yes, I did," she said, struggling not to twitch and even out the "I"s and "T"s. Again, the voice within her yelled at her to count, to correct. But this time it sounded the tiniest bit quieter. Even if it was just her imagination, it gave Brittany hope.
Her breath caught in her throat and her heart felt as if it would rupture, but she held fast and refused to give in. Air came into her lungs in short, pained bursts and her mind raced with adrenaline and anxiety.
"What's your name?" she asked, between painful breaths.
"Adam," he said. "Why?"
She looked into his chocolate brown eyes and smiled at him once more. Despite the fact that she was grinding her teeth to distract herself from her obsessions and compulsions, her heart, her soul, felt relieved of its pain.
"I just wanted to know the name of the man who saved me from myself."
A/N: I have another author's note here because it would spoil the story if it were at the start.
I also know what it's like to see others with the same disease for the first time, and it really is a humbling, freeing experience. Two of them were students at my school, and it really opened my eyes. I've been an "Adam" to others in my therapy group. They thanked me for being able to say the things they couldn't, and I am forever grateful and proud that I've been able to make a difference in their lives, no matter how small. It truly is the greatest feeling in the world.
I have my very own Adam, too. Though I can't use his real name here, this story is dedicated to him. Thanks, 'Adam' for taking away my candy wrapper.
If he ever reads this, he'll know who he is.