Adam is going to the doctor's office without his mother. Predictably, she isn't taking it very well.
"Are you sure you want to do this, Adam?"
She forgets, for the seventh time, that this was her idea.
"Mother, I'll be fine," Adam reassures her, placing his hands about her shoulders and nudging her away from the front door towards the living room where his father ails dramatic all over their ghost couches. "Dad's the one with the flu. He needs you."
As if he can hear them talking about him, Mr. Heller emits a wail like a dying walrus. He sneezes and the house shakes with him. "Caroline," he whines, "where are you? I've run out of tissues."
Mrs. Heller's eyes roll. She digs her feet into the carpet. "He just needs me to fetch things. The giant baby can be without me for a few hours."
"So what I'm hearing is, you think I can't?" Adam teases.
"No, what you should be hearing is take me with you. Let's ditch patient zero over there."
"What? I'm just saying!"
A car horn blares outside; once, twice, three times. His ride is here. Adam remembers he's doing something and quickly tugs on his remaining boot. The rest of his protective gear is already in place. Over the years, he's found ways to make it less aggressively noticeable. He doesn't, for example, wear the bee-keeper's mask anymore. He has also discovered that if your t-shirt has a lot of angry band names on it, no one questions why you are covered from your head to your toes. He pulls his backpack with his important files on over his shoulders. He grabs his umbrella. He is ready.
"Promise me, you'll call as soon as you get in the car," his mother insists, as he turns the doorknob.
"—and don't let those hooligans peer pressure you into doing anything."
"I thought you liked my friends!"
"I do like your friends, I'm talking about that cuckoo nurse, Vicky. What did she say last time? Drinking coconut milk six times a day will cure your genetic mutation."
"She did say that, didn't she?"
"She most certainly did. Then she asked if I wanted to hear about the medicinal benefits of Snail slime."
"If I promise not to become a snail slime junkie, will you let me go?"
"Or a coconut milk junkie."
"That's the one you hit once and you're addicted for life, right?"
Her mouth twitches; some of that is a smile. Her hands wrap her sides; her knuckles stretch white. Adam recognizes the struggle and appreciates it. The morning he watched Evan go off to college had been one of the hardest mornings of his life. Even though he knew, as his mother knows, that Evan would come back, that Adam is coming back, it made no difference then and it makes none now. The act of being left is what breaks you. All the promise of return does is remind you to pick up the pieces.
Sadistic happiness blooms in his chest. He squashes it down, but it's acting a bit like sunlight and shining through his a thousand and one cracks. It's not right that her separation anxiety should be inversely proportional to his sense of worth in this moment, but it is.
She misses him.
She misses him and he's not even gone yet.
He wants to thank her for feeling so bad, but the saner part of him knows you can't do that. Instead, he awkwardly waves goodbye and steps outside.
Adam tries to get into the back seat, but Jason's endless limbs covet all time and space. He barely stirs from his stupor, so Adam pulls open the passenger side to the front. Madavhi's voice rings out the second the door opens.
"The fuck, Adam? Is your appointment at 9 am or 9 pm? I've been been running the engine for an hour!"
She's in the driver seat, her feet and arms curled up inside a plump, purple winter jacket that – like everything else she owns – is too big for her. Her face just barely peaks over cotton, her nose ring winks in the sun. She's propped up in her seat on several pillows so she can see above the driver's wheel. Adam wonders how one person can look so cozy and disgruntled all at the same time.
"My mom got a bit-" Adam explains. He can't say more, because it'd be abusing himself. As much as his mom is a bit, he is even more. At least she actually let him go. When Evan left, Adam spent a week begging her to drive him up to see him. He'd invent all manners of things that Evan had left behind that Adam just had to take to him.
Things like Adam for example.
"No more talking! Coffee!" Jason's sleepy voice grumbles from the back. "You promised coffee first."
Madhavi's gaze veers off Adam to the long limbed, snoozing cat, inhabiting back seat. Her turned nose sparkles gold piercing. "If you didn't keep failing your driving lesson Jason, maybe your parents would let you drive your car so you could get coffee."
"It's not me, it's the patriarchy. It's holding me down."
"You're a man, Jason."
"So the patriarchy is in your favor."
"Says you." His brown irises seek sunlight, beneath hooded eyelids. He shifts against the window providing his arm rest. "Coffee," he whines. "Give coffee!"
Madhavi rolls here eyes and throws the gear into reverse. "The things I do for you fools..."
The hospital is far. They are still driving.
"I'm digging the Disturbed™ shirt," Madhavi mentions. It has been quiet ever since Jason fell back asleep. Per Madhavi, he should be fine by about noon. Adam already knows this from when they've stayed over at his house before. One time, his mother managed to have a whole book club meeting without Jason waking up, which, actually made her quite sad as she'd been planning on his dramatic appearance being a nice segue into kicking the other women out of her house.
Thinking about his mother makes him shine again. He starts to wonder how sad she is now, then balks at how awful that is. He decides to answer Madhavi instead.
"What's your favorite song?"
"Everything off their first album," Adam answers confidently. He hasn't heard a thing of this band, but he has heard this question in his last two years since leaving the basement. It happens a lot when his mother or Evan take him out and invariably leave him places because they must go 'grab something' or 'close the car door' or 'use the bathroom'. Trial and error and a lot of awkward conversations have since given birth to this most perfect response. The best album is always the first one. Before they all become "commercial". Whatever that means.
"Fuck yes!" Madhavi awards him with a pumped fist in the air. "Swear to god, down with the sickness got me through freshman year." She starts shuffling with her ipod, which is nestled against the gear shift. She doesn't even need to look down at it, she knows it so well. "Still, if you like the first album, you have to agree the third one was a close second. David Draimon singing stricken? Like the love song I never knew I needed."
Adam nods mutely. He has never gotten this far in this conversation. Usually, when he gets this question, the asker is passing by and has no time to delve deeper. He is now trapped in a car.
Madhavi starts singing at the top of her voice. Adam struggles along muttering words he doesn't know, just low enough so that Madhavi won't know he's saying all the wrong ones. She notices anyway.
The music stops.
"I'm gonna take a wild shot and guess you don't know this song."
Adam shrugs helplessly. "I'm sorry."
"Do you know any songs by Disturbed?"
"No," Adam says in a small voice. He rushes to explain. "But, I don't know any songs by any band. So, I-it's not just them."
"Not any band?"
"Wait, how? Do you not like music or something?"
"I don't not like music, I just don't like music."
"Are you deaf?"
"How can you not listen to music? I mean I thought it was weird you never played any but I figured you were just super private. I didn't-like really?"
It is awkward and quiet.
Adam runs through the transcript of their words in his head trying to think of how this could have gone better – or rather less worse. He comes up empty. It's so much easier doing this with his mother.
It's never been a thing that he doesn't listen to music. His parents play some stuff sometimes, with violins and grand pianos and quivering flutes, but usually only when they are locked in their studios creating. It is for them and they do not share. Evan never plays music when Adam is around; there's no opportunity to. When they are together they are talking. When they are not talking they are making love. When they are not making love they are having sex. Evan doesn't care for any other sound at any of these times. But Adam has seen his phone. He's into something called Adele. He must listen to it when he's not with Adam.
He swallows hard. Madhavi is still looking ahead at the road, but he can see the reflection of her face in the rearview mirror and it percolates confusion.
"I'm not used to having a lot of voices around me," he tries to answer her unasked question.
"And you are friends with me and Jason, how?"
"That's different. You guys are real."
"So is music."
"No. I think it might be different if I went to a live show and saw the singer. But when I hear it on my computer or on the radio – it's disembodied. And like in the..." He almost says basement then stops himself, because that's just lame. And far too depressing. He shifts gears "When I was in the, um, the dark place voices echoed. I always felt like—this synthetic voice that wasn't even talking to me was the best human contact I was ever going to get. So I just didn't listen. I still don't."
Adam is proud of himself. This could have raged-spiraled into a self-depracating tale of woe, but his quick thinking has saved it. This is just a perfectly ordinary conversation about music and dark places. No one can feel bad for him now. He is so chuffed with himself, he even decides to continue. See how much more normal conversations he can have.
"I've gotten out of the dark place of course. I have new clothes. I have friends. I have a boyfriend. Sometimes, though, I wake up at night and the room is dark, and I'm in the exact same bed, and I'm still, you know, still sick; I feel the same enough that it feels like I'm still there."
Madhavi doesn't answer immediately, which Adam appreciates. She's thinking about his answer. Not only has he managed not to be pathetic, he's also interesting. Adam likes this new layer of himself.
"I think we never leave our dark places completely," she says after a time.
"Oh yeah. We just kinda realize that it's not a trap. We can leave whenever we want to. We can switch on the light. We can take people there as well."
Adam purses his lips. "We?" he queries thoughtfully. Madhavi's eyes meet his in the mirror briefly. They flash something unspoken and return to the road.
"We all have our secrets."
Madhavi laughs. "I suppose you don't. I mean you used to be a secret - but I guess you weren't the one keeping it." she pauses on that. "You're weirdly open. You should learn to keep secrets."
"Because otherwise people can take advantage of you."
"But if you have a secret, you have something to hide. And that makes you much easier to take advantage of."
Madhavi isn't really listening anymore. Something has occurred to her in the interim and now her iPod is the focus of her attention. "I hear your logic," Madhavi says, "and I will have a perfect rebuttal to it later, but we have something much more important to do now."
"You are a virgin, my friend."
Adam blushes. "I am not."
Unless one could become a virgin again from just not having sex for ages. Like he hasn't. Because, you know, no Evan. He wilts.
"A music virgin, I mean."
"A music virgin is someone who by pure fate and circumstance has not had their mind polluted or enlightened by any particular music. Usually reserved for like mormons or like...cave dwellers, but rarely we get people like you. Born into music, but somehow escaping it altogether."
"I listened to the music on the SIMS."
Her hand stops on a song and fangs and mischief paint her mouth. They have conveniently come to a stoplight so the full force of her amusement is upon him now.
"Do I have permission to take your musical virginity, Adam?"
Adam squirms. "Why are you asking it so weird?"
"Because consent is important. Hashtag me too, hashtag consent is cool."
"Can't you just say, do you want to listen to a song?"
"Not for your first time, no."
"No, you're weird."
It feels weird calling someone else weird. But it also feels normal and comfortable. Like this is how friends should talk. Like this is how he can talk to people who aren't Evan and his mother. Like maybe he doesn't have to have the perfect fake answer next time someone asks him something about himself in conversation...
Sudden courage broils from a belly of comfort and trust. And a joke, too. A tease.
He looks Madhavi dead in the eye, staring maybe a little too hard because he's also a little nervous. He licks his lips.
"Fuck me, Madhavi. I'm ready."
He wiggles his eyebrows.
Madhavi bursts into peels of unbridled laughter. She hits play. The lights turn green. A roaring drum beat fills the car and they speed off with the peels of Madhavi's laughter as an after track.
Madhavi and Jason insist on going into the doctor's office with Adam. They assure him that they have been sent as emissaries by his separate parental units and they need to know everything that happens. Adam can tell his doctor is amused by his new entourage. He even lets them check out the giant texts he has lining his shelves. He never reads them, he jokes, they are too heavy.
The visit ends. Adam isn't any better, but he's not getting any worse, and that is quite a bit for everyone to hope for. They make another appointment. They go out into the lobby.
There is a giant wall poster with a bunch of fliers hanging off of it. They ignored it coming in because they were late, but now there is time. Now the can take it in. Madhavi and Jason take little slips of papers from all the research studies that are paying money "so they can buy beer". They don't actually drink that much together, all of them are lightweights, but it seems like the sort of thing you should do at 17. Get adults to give you money to buy beer. Who knows, maybe they will actually buy ice-cream.
"You guys!" Madhavi exhales. Her face is like Christmas. She's point to a bright blue flier with large bold print that's demanding it be read.
"What?" Jason demands, taking stock of the excitement and wanting more.
"There's an art festival next month! I think we should all enter. First prize is 5000 dollars and a chance to go to the bigger festival in California next June!"
Jason screams. Madhavi screams. Adam just blinks until they notice he isn't celebrating. Madhavi turns on Adam clutching his hands. "You know you have to enter right?"
"Of course you do! We'll be the three musketeers! You, me, and Jason taking on the art world! It'll be Massive! My words, your porn! No one will ever see us coming!"
"I've never done a festival," Adam whispers, entirely awed.
"Well, you got through David Draimon, so I'm thinking you can get through anything."
"Ew, she made you listen to her pots and pans music? I'm so sorry." Jason apologizes.
"You take that back you ass, or you're walking home!" Madhavi threatens.
"But they don't even say words. It's just screaming."
"It's vocal masterpiece!"
"Don't you mean massacre?"
Madhavi throws a punch, which Jason easily dodges. They take off after each other out the doors, presumably to hurt each other by the car. In the meantime Adam has reached out for the flier and is holding it in his hands. The words jump up at him in multi colored versions of glow. His heart quickens in his chest.
Step 1 - escape the basement
Step 2 - invite the world into his house
Step 3 - become a part of the world
He puts the flier in his pocket.
He buzzes all the way home.
a/n: this shit has literally been sitting on my desktop for months. why? because fuck residency that's why. ugh what is my life. but okay more words and more things. next chapter soon (or whenever i get around to it)