a/n: so i want to apologise for this chapter in case it seems rushed, or the pacing is much different from others. i re-outlined up to the very last chapter and realised that with the updated plotlines, i have a lot more to cover in each chapter. i wanted to get this one out of the way because it's very dialogue-heavy, and while it wasn't originally my favourite to write, it has some pretty essential story elements, and i found myself enjoying it more, the more i worked on it. i hope you all enjoy it as much as i have.
-mentions of eating disorder, a person in denial of their ED, and somewhat shaming of someone with an ED, coming from a character who doesn't fully understand. please be aware, i want people to enjoy this story, but if this is a trigger for you, skip past the third divider line. i will place one after the trigger warnings to begin the chapter and the second one will be placed beneath the title song lyrics per standard chapter set-up, the third will mark the end of that scene; however, after this there will still be mentions of ED, if only in passing
-casual use of the term 'nazi' in an inappropriate situation
-descriptive violence, bullying, character injury; the beginning of this scene will be marked by the fourth line, and the end will be marked by the fifth
"Sometimes the one you want is not the one you need
What goes around don't come around
You should know me by now"
~by now:marianas trench
Chapter 14: By Now
"They're really overreacting," she tells me. I feel her eyes on me, but can't look away from the IV in her arm, or the way it's bruised around the entry. Her tone is light, but I can hear the effort in her breathing. She looks older too, in the face, and it's only been a week. How can I look at her? How didn't I see it before?
Her hand is trembling when she waves it to get my attention. I finally meet her eyes.
"I just fainted, Chris," she says. "People faint all the time."
No, they don't. I'm shaking my head, I'm angry somehow, but I can't fathom why.
"Oh, come on," she tries for lighthearted again, but I can't get on board with it, "I just worked out too hard, it's really not a big deal."
I've fainted before, I remember. From low blood sugar. From lack of food. But not like this. My heart was racing when I came to; they said hers was barely beating.
"You can't honestly think this is okay," I don't mean to say it, I know it won't help to chastise her, but it comes out anyway.
She's taken aback, confused. "Think what's okay?" Her skin is pallid and covered in goosebumps, but she has enough blankets for my whole household heaped on top of her.
"I don't know," I tell her, even though I do. She won't come clean with this. Not to me.
You don't even know her, really.
"Is this the big secret?" I ask. "The not eating."
"I eat!" she argues. "I'm a cheerleader, Chris. I have to maintain a diet."
Dammit, I'm still mad. "Okay, but isn't this a little extreme?" I motion to the many monitors and bags of fluid surrounding her.
"I told you. They overreacted."
"They overreacted? Your throat is so damaged you can't swallow on your own anymore."
"They just said that so my dad would agree to the feeding tube! I'm telling you, they're blowing this out of proportion!"
"No," I say, "This is how people react to people trying to kill themselves."
"Oh, please!" she raises her voice and her heart rate ratchets up for all to hear. "How can you even say that to me? You, of all people? You're skinny as a rail! I've been hospitalized for 'malnutrition' and 'overexertion,' but here you are! Still skinnier than me." She recites her diagnoses with disdain, disbelief.
This. This is why I'm mad, I realize. It's been in the back of my brain for years, stopping me for my sake, but never thinking to stop for hers.
Suddenly, I need to get out of here. I can't rein in my temper, and I'm agitating her.
"You're upset," I say. So am I. "I should let you rest up."
Still skinnier than me.
But I always will be, I can't control it anymore than she can. But she really thinks she can.
"Yeah," she agrees, calmer now, but sad. "You should probably go."
So I do.
When I make it to the main lobby, Brock is waiting there, looking at his phone and twirling his keys around his index finger.
He glances up as I approach.
"How is she?"
"She's.." I struggle to find a word. I think 'different,' but I say, "the same."
"She'll get better," he says, standing up and pushing the door open for me. "It'll just take a while."
How long is a while? Can she even get better, standing next to me? Me, who will always be small.
We walk out into the night, back to the far side he's parked on. It's pitch dark outside and half the lights in this lot are out.
Once inside his truck, I find my voice in the stillness around us, "Gary was right. She can't be with me right now."
"Did you break up with her?" he asks, and I realize it's a valid question. I should have, but wouldn't it make things worse for her? If I did it now? Would she blame her body instead of her mind?
"No.. I mean, I don't think so. We just.. fought," I answer him after a beat.
"You fought with a sick person? That's low."
I thought reignites my anger, but I'm not even sure who to be mad at.
"Of course we fought! She thinks I'm some kind of standard to go by!" I almost shout over the sound of him starting the engine, then quieter as he's backing up, "It's my fucking fault she got to this point, in the first place."
"What makes you think that?" He's not paying much attention to anything but driving as he tries to find a way out of the parking lot.
"It's left over, here," I offer, and then to respond, "Gary's been-"
"Why the fuck does it matter what he says?" Brock cuts me off as he veers left with more speed than necessary. "Do you even know why he hates me, by the way? He doesn't even blame you for her relapse, Hollywood, he blames me."
"Relapse? This happened before?" I'm caught up on that revelation, but then the second one crashes like a wave. "Wait, how is it your fault? You're not even a thing with her."
He hesitates for a minute, then sighs, coming to a stop just before the exit leading directly onto the highway. He shifts into park there. There are no other cars out this late.
"My third day in town," he starts, hands gripping the wheel tightly, "my dad sent me to the same therapist she sees."
But I know this already. Gary told me this.
"When I saw her in the waiting room, we started talking. I told her my dad wanted me to see someone throughout the divorce, and she told me her parents sent her there for 'weight loss troubles.' She didn't look emaciated then, she looked like she had some extra pounds on her. I thought she was there to lose weight, not to stop losing weight. I told her to keep trying to reach her dream body, that she was worth it."
He sounds ashamed. He sounds like he might blame himself too.
"I didn't know her dream body was supposed to be that body. My dad found that therapist in an ad for their weight loss programs."
I think back to Brock's first few days at school, how Gary got Leslie's note and started acting weird. Leslie saying Brock's 'another story.'
Do they all blame him? How were any of us supposed to know? How could Gary keep this a secret for so long, knowing her life was in danger?
So then, who should we all blame?
"But I was warned," I say, at last. Gary tried to tell me, anyway he could without betraying her trust. And I never listened. Neither did she. "You had no way of knowing. I've lived here my whole life. Watched her, admired her." Loved her. "And I was warned."
He shakes his head at me, the way I shook mine at Leslie just minutes ago, and puts the truck back in drive.
"You can't go playing the blame game for someone's mental illness," he says after a long moment of silent, empty highway. "It's nobody's fault, but we all know now. All we can do is make sure we're helping her recovery."
"Yeah." There's really no arguing with that. Except I can't shake this guilt, deep in my bones. Can't stop the feeling that the only way for me to help her is to leave her alone.
"So don't go picking any more fights," he scolds with a grin. Still, the road stretches on before us, into endless streetlights and mile markers, and I can't find the strength to engage in his banter just now.
School seems like a death trap, once we come back from thanksgiving break. It starts off bad, with Jed the fucking Hall Monitor and his hat vendetta.
"Townsend!" I ignore him, so he shouts again, "Townsend!" When he still doesn't get my attention, I hear him running after me, so I quicken my pace. He calls out then, his last resort, "Hollywood!"
That has me stopping in my tracks, so that by the time I turn around to throw his full name back at him, he's caught up, and I'm yelling in his face, "Jedidiah!"
"Wow, calling each other by name," he says smugly. "It only took us four years, should we celebrate?"
I don't feel like celebrating anything. I want to crawl under a rock and never look at anyone again, and he's trying to be fucking friendly with me right now?
"Can I help you?" I ask him, "Is there a reason you're harassing me on my way to class."
His smile dims, but he shrugs it off, donning his regular disapproving grimace.
"Rules still apply, even right after the holidays. Hats. Off."
"Hats off?" I say, grabbing my beanie from the top of my head and clutching it in my fist, "Hats off to you, you fuckin' hat Nazi." I toss it at his chest and storm off, barely catching a glimpse of the pure shock across his face. It takes a minute for my brain to catch up with what I've just done.
I feel more weight added to the stony guilt in my chest.
Jed goes to the same temple as Gary. Jed is Jewish, and I just called him a fucking Nazi.
All these things that I know, or should know. And I just do whatever I feel like, without thinking of the consequences.
Homeroom isn't any better. Gary's there, within arm's reach, and yet further away than ever before, Jodi leaning on his desk to catch up after the week-long break. I can't just tell him he was right, because I can't break up with Leslie now. I have to be there for her. She needs support, and I'm her boyfriend. I have to find a way to stay with her, without making her feel worse. Maybe I can fix this whole mess by changing myself, but it seems like the only way to do that is to be.. bigger.
Have you been pumping iron?
Gary's clearly figured out how to do that..
When everyone finally makes their way to their respective seats, the chatter continues, and I tap his shoulder.
He turns around, and it hurts that he's surprised to find it's me.
"I need you to work me out," I say in a rush, before he can get a word in to distract me. His eyebrows disappear into his overgrown curls.
"You're not that hard to code, Hollywood," he whispers back like he thinks it's something that might embarrass me. "I'm pretty sure I have you worked out."
"I meant physically," I clarify, and at that he rolls his eyes.
"You're obviously not saying what it sounds like your saying," he informs slowly, like I'm an idiot. "So how about you try again?"
He's being an ass, but he's right, and I feel my face turning red when I say, "I need to get beefy." I flex my arm and point to his, to indicate. "Like you."
"Was that a compliment?"
"No!" I tell him hurriedly, not wanting to be derailed. This isn't about us right now. "I just need your help. I don't know how to do it, and you obviously do."
"I'll help you, if that's what you need," he replies, and sounds almost relieved, but at the same time he's looking at me in fear, like I might bite him. Maybe I've bitten him before. I do a lot of things without a second thought, apparently. Now I'm wondering if I've even thought this through.
"I'll text you a list of foods and a calorie count, and we can plan to workout whenever, just let me know," he tells me, and his tone is crisp and cool, like a friend of a friend. Not like a best friend. I guess we aren't anymore, so why would it be?
The exchange leaves me feeling heavier than before, like I've added something else to my guilty ball and chain, and now I've got to drag it around all day.
Gary sends his instructions right as my lit. class is wrapping up for lunch:
Your daily goal should be 2500-3000, to start. You won't feel hungry enough, so you have to make yourself eat. You have a really high metabolism and you're an athlete. You won't gain on 2000 or less.
Right after that, he sends a long list of foods. I notice a lot of meats and shoot back:
You ate these? You're a vegetarian.
He responds just as the bell rings, and I make my way into the hall:
I didn't, but you will. It'll be easier for you too.
The irony is that I was planning on skipping lunch, since I'm not very hungry and I don't feel like dealing with more people than I have to, but this is something I can't put off. I'm distracted typing up a complaint about my lack of appetite, going slower than the crowd that steadily dissipates as I fall further behind. Then I bump into Jacob Campbell. Literally.
He seems to be standing in the middle of everything, specifically to be in my way, and then, as if to confirm this, he blocks my path once more when I try to get around him.
"Okay," I sigh impatiently. I have to go eat, before I lose the drive. "Something you need?"
"I need you to go away."
"Yes, good, and I want to. So move," I demand, irritated now.
"Who do you even think you are?" He doesn't budge, even as I try pushing him. "You scrawny little chicken shit. Just shoving your way into someone's life, while you're playing your faggoty field, and suddenly she ends up half-dead in the hospital. Do you even care?"
I don't have a response to that. I'm so floored that this is coming from him, this kid I only know to the extent that I hate him, that I'm silent for too long. That's enough for him to decide my guilt. And why not? Hadn't that been decided already? I don't need a reminder, but he gives me one.
Pain isn't something I'm necessarily accustomed to, but his first punch doesn't get enough of a response from me to satisfy him. Maybe he wants me to fight back, but my head just turns to the side from the force of it as it connects with my eye. I do nothing. Say nothing. I'm not even sure if I made a sound when he hit me.
The second punch is harder, to the stomach; it sends me staggering back towards the lockers. I slide down against them, heaving to catch my breath.
I don't see him move closer to me, can't focus long enough to care about anything but the air that's gone missing from my lungs. I'm pretty sure it's his sneaker that makes the final blow. A kick straight to my face sends my skull careening back to smash against the lockers behind me, with a metallic 'clang' that rings in my ears, long after he must have walked away.
I stay there, waiting for the dizziness to abate, but it doesn't. I lick my lips and taste blood.
Maybe I should go to the nurse. Maybe I should just go home. I don't even fucking know, but I can't just stay here in a pitiful heap on the ground. I can only be grateful no one is around to witness this.
I stumble when I rise, and have to steady myself against the wall.
My phone goes off somewhere on the ground; I hadn't realized I dropped it. I bend to retrieve it, and get more disoriented on the come up. I stow it in my pocket and start my slow ascension to the nurse's office on the second floor. I hope she has Tylenol, my head is pounding.
Lunch is halfway over by now, maybe I'll go home early and eat there. I must look pathetic enough to warrant a half-day. I definitely feel pathetic enough. I reach the top of the stairs and encounter a blurry figure. I can't open my left eye.
Oh, fuck. Am I really this unlucky?
"Shit, you're bleeding everywhere, what happened?" the fact that he's concerned at all, sends a pang past my outer injuries, and straight to my frayed, guilt-ridden nerves. I see him hurriedly pull out his phone to text someone. His thumb is faster than I can process, and then he's bounding over to where I am.
"Sorry I called you a Nazi," I say instead of answering. It comes out weirdly slurred. My tongue feels too big for my mouth.
"Why would I care? You call me things all the time, I just kind of ignore it. Here," Jed grabs my arm and pulls it over his shoulder to help me. "I summoned your keeper. Clearly, you can't be away from him without finding trouble."
"My who?" Is he talking about Brock? Who keeps me?
We're moving turtle-slow as we go. Turtles are nice though.
"Hollywood?" I hear, and it's a voice I hear in my sleep.
"Garebear!" I shout, and everything spins when I turn my head to look for him.
"Who did this?" he asks, but he's not talking to me. I expect to be passed off to Gary, but I'm disappointed when he just says, "Never mind. Hollywood, call Brooklyn. He can take you to your mom."
"Why can't you take me?" I whine. He reaches across Jed to brush my uninjured cheek, as if that's a normal thing for friends. Ex-friends? Newly reformed ex-friends? I'm confused, and I wish his hand would stay. "Aren't we friends?"
"Call your brother, Hollywood," he says again, moving away from me. I feel his loss like lead in my feet, and I don't want to go anywhere. I'm so heavy, so how is it I need to put on more weight?
"Stop calling me that," I mutter and I think he must not hear me.
He's almost running the opposite way, and calls back behind him, "No! Call your brother!"
But I don't want to. My brother will blow a gasket if he sees this.
When I make us stop at the bathroom, I feel recovered enough to walk without support. I pee and go to wash my hands. Seeing myself in the mirror, I decide to wash my face too, but even without the blood it looks pretty gross.
Jed sees me staring at it.
"Ice would help. We should go get some."
But my phone starts buzzing against my thigh, so I take it out instead of replying.
Well, fuck. It's Brooklyn.
Gary works fast. And he knows me too well.
"Yes?" I answer his call sweetly.
"I'm on the way," he says, all serious, and not playing my game. I want to go home, but I feel like Brooklyn will take one look at me and rush me to the hospital instead.
"Oh? Where to?" It makes my head hurt less to pretend ignorance.
"Stop fucking around, Hollywood!" Ugh. Everyone and their name-calling today. "I'll be there in 10 minutes." He disconnects.
I have a feeling if he comes inside, I'll lose some time trying to keep him from hunting down Jacob Campbell, so it puts a little more pep in my step as we go to the nurse's office.
She takes one look at me, and goes to get an ice pack. Danny Campbell's laid out on the only bed, reading 'Fight Club,' and looking like he probably doesn't need to be here.
The nurse seems to think so too, because right after she passes me two tylenol and a wet paper towel she snaps at him, "Go get some ice from the cafeteria, Danny."
He reluctantly puts his book down. "Why?"
"They let you miss class because you said you'd fix the cooler in here, and it's still broken."
"It needs new parts. I don't just store ancient freezer parts up my ass."
"Well, I don't need parts, Danny, I need ice. Make yourself useful, or go back to class."
"Fine," he says, petulantly. He gets up and walks out, but not before saying, "That looks really bad," like I don't already know.
"My brother's picking me up," I tell her. "I'm gonna go wait outside the rotunda for him."
"Sit down, before you fall down," she says. "Your brother can come get you here."
I try to think of a way to tell her that's not a good idea, when someone comes over the intercom in the room, saying she's needed in the cafeteria. More irony. I doubt it's lost on her.
"Ya'll never give me a peaceful moment, I swear. Make sure he stays put," she tells Jed as she rushes out.
"I'm not staying here. My brother's really overprotective. If he comes inside, he's going after Jake the second he sees my face."
"Yeah, I mean, Gary just wanted you to get to your brother, so I'm not stopping you."
I gasp. "Jedidiah! That's an authority figure you're ignoring, sir!"
"Authority is all about perspective," he says. "For instance, in this room, I'm the only one with a badge now. So go, and keep your savage brother from wreaking havoc in my town."
He puts my salvaged beanie on like a sheriff's hat and leaves. Where was he even keeping it? His pockets aren't that big..
I go down the main stairs, because they go right into the rotunda, and pass by many curious looks as students mill past, heading to their next class.
Cold air soothes me when I reach the doors and I walk to the bench in the middle of the roundabout to sit and wait. I still have a towel to my face and the chilly breeze almost makes up for the lack of ice. But I have that at home, anyway.
The lump forming at the back of my head needs it the most, but if I told any of them I hit it, they'd have called me an ambulance for sure. And there's only one place close enough for that ambulance to go. It's the last thing I want to do to my mom during the holidays, when the hospital's already so busy.
"Hey, film star," I hear Leslie's step-brother say as he sidles up beside me, uninvited. "Something happen to your face? It's worse than usual."
"Don't be a jerk," I mumble.
"Yeah, okay. But what happened to your face?"
"Jacob Campbell," I say, hoping it will shut him up. Make him go away.
"That the same Jake your rich Gary friend just put on the ground?" his accent becomes more apparent the more he talks. When I actually realize what he says, instead of trying to pinpoint what part of the UK that's from, I pull the towel away from my face to look at him.
"Gary did what?" I ask, dumbfounded.
"Put him. On the ground. You know? Like, flipped the table on him, and he was on the ground, after. Your Gary put him there."
My Gary? Why say that?
"Holy shit! Why would he do that?!" It's a rhetorical question that I already know the answer to; the only roadblock I'm coming to is that Gary's never had a violent reaction to anything in all the years I've known him. Of course, Fred has an answer anyway.
"Well, if you're asking me, I'd say it's because you're his little film star pal, and that Jake kid did a number on your money-maker. For whatever reason, he likes your face."
He sits down next to me, while I process that too. The smell of the cafeteria is all around me. Danny Campbell shows up with the ice he was sent for, and I can't tell which one of them is bringing on this scent that makes me want to vomit.
Danny hands me the ice and says, "Sorry about your face."
"Sorry about your brother," I respond, not meaning it.
He exchanges a look with Fred before asking, "So you heard about the fight?"
"Not in so much detail. Just that some tables were flipped."
"It wasn't so spectacular. Jake is a pansy in reality."
I scoff, feeling the mark his shoe left on my face. "I'll take your word for it."
After a beat where they're both just quietly staring around and at each other, I say, "Sorry, could you guys leave or something? You smell like the lunchroom, and I'm really nauseous."
Danny shrugs and moves a few feet away, like he thinks I need a babysitter. Fred waits awhile before jumping up and saying, "Yeah, I'll be going then."
"Bye," I say to him, grateful he's leaving.
As Fred pulls through the roundabout, he waves to Danny and then to me. I flip him the bird, because his music is too loud and assaulting my already tender ears. His tires squeal in spite when he finally, finally drives off, and I lean my head back in relief.
"You're super grouchy," Danny tells me.
"Yep," I agree. Not a minute after, I hear a car approaching and my brother's voice, calling out to me.
I try and cover as much of my face as possible with the ice-filled towel, but I know it's not enough. When I get up and walk to the car, his eyes go round as planets, and then narrow so that it's a wonder he still sees at all.
"Hey, bro," I greet with something distantly related to a smile, opening the passenger side door.
"Don't start with me!" he's not yelling, but boy, is he ever mad. The car is in park, which has me nervous.
"I was just saying, hey!" I defend.
"Who was it?" he barks. I don't want to answer. Brooklyn was notorious for fighting in high school, until he ended up channeling all that energy into ROTC. Right after graduating, he joined the police force, but that's behind him now; he lost interest. Now he's all scrap, and no discipline.
"Does it matter?" I ask, tiredly.
"Hollywood, if you don't-" I stop him.
"Are you really gonna go barging into my school and beat up a minor, Brooklyn?"
"If he's in your year, there's a fifty percent chance he's not."
"And? He'd still be on campus. You go in at all, you come out in handcuffs. They don't just let random adults in."
"I'll bring my hall pass," he grinds out through clenched teeth.
"Brooklyn, I need to go home," I plead, "My head hurts so bad, please."
His face changes to something softer then, more him.
"Okay," he relents, running his hand over the crown of my head gently, "we'll go home, little brother."
a/n: so things are becoming more introspective in holly's world, but not to such a point that he's drastically changing his ways. he's sure to remain in his own special world for some time. it'd take something really serious to actually wake him up. anyways. i hope you guys liked the chapter. i've completed several later chapters and only have these in-betweens to work on. so here's hoping you won't give up on me just yet!
also, the scene between holly and fred occurs in the first chapter of "freddy know nada," along with fred's perspective on gary's fight with jacob. feel free to check that out for more insight into their connected worlds.