Felix held a spoonful of chicken broth in his hand, his smooth fingers encircling the silver utensil almost lovingly. “Okay, Reuben. Put your hand over mine.”
I can’t do this, Reuben thought in panic. He felt as though his muscles were frozen. Despite this, he obeyed his partner and clasped his slender fingers around the spoon as well.
“We’ll lift it together,” Felix said. He gave Reuben a gentle, tender smile – in his expression there was a distinct reassurance. He wanted Reuben to feel safe.
But that was the last thing Reuben felt at that moment. He wanted to run and hide, to throw up. He and Felix brought the spoonful of soup up slowly, and as Reuben’s lips closed around it he almost retched as a reflex. He managed, though, to swallow the mouthful. He knew he owed it to Felix.
He ate the rest of the bowl slowly and carefully in this manner, Felix offering gentle words of encouragement along the way. Reuben couldn’t help but feel disgusted at the feeling in his stomach as he set the spoon into the empty bowl. He put his hands under his shirt, scratching at it impulsively, wanting nothing more than to somehow get rid of it.
“I’m so proud of you,” Felix murmured, pulling him into a hug. He kissed Reuben’s forehead, and although the gesture cheered him, it didn’t halt his feelings of nausea and self-hatred.
“Felix,” he whispered, turning eyes shiny with tears on his partner’s smiling face. “I feel sick.”
“It’s all right,” Felix said firmly, still holding him. “You’re going to keep it down.”
Oh, God, I wish I didn’t have to disappoint him. “I can’t.”
“Yes, you can. Just tell yourself you can and you will.” He didn’t seem to want to hear Reuben’s excuses. It hurt Reuben even more to know how strongly Felix believed in him and how badly he wanted to see him getting better, because he knew at this point how far from likely it was.
“It’s not that easy, Felix,” he muttered, feeling absolutely terrible. “I can’t just not throw up, I’m so used to doing it. Chances are I will even if I try not to.”
Felix stared at him almost as though he didn’t believe what he was hearing. Then he gave a short, harsh laugh. “Well, it’s not like you try very hard, at any rate.”
At those words, Reuben felt as though someone had torn into his chest with a barbed knife. He doesn’t think I’m trying. He doesn’t know how much I want to get better. “No, no, I am!” he cried, feeling an ache in his throat. “I work so hard, Felix, you have no idea!”
“Right, is that why you purged after dinner last night? Is that why you cut yourself last week?” Now Felix had a calculating look in his eyes – it pained Reuben to look at him.
But he was also angered by his partner’s words. You have no idea what this is like for me, he felt like snarling. You have no right to judge me; you don’t feel this every day. “It’s not like I can heal overnight,” he shot back in an acid tone. “I can’t just snap my fingers and make myself normal.”
“I’m not asking you to. I just want you to put in a little effort to get there.”
Felix had spoken in a calm tone, almost with a hint of sympathy, but Reuben couldn’t stand his assumptions anymore. “God damn it, Felix, you don’t even know!” he screamed, wrenching free of his lover’s embrace and pushing him backwards. “You don’t understand! Just shut up and stop abusing me!” As soon as the words left his mouth he wanted to take them back, but it was far too late for that.
“I’m abusing you?” Felix muttered, his eyes on the floor. “My life is all about you, Reuben, every second of every day. I would give anything to make you happy. I thought I was helping you, I thought you appreciated it.” He paused for a moment and then raised his gaze to meet Reuben’s for a split-second, fiery with anger. “Y’know what, Reuben? Fuck you.” Then in one swift movement he turned around and bolted out of the kitchen.
Reuben sat immobilized at the table, his hands folded in front of him, his fingers clasped together like the pale legs of spiders intertwining in a silver web. He listened and winced at the sharp slam of the bedroom door as Felix flung it shut behind him; the noise was like a gunshot reverberating through his throbbing head. It symbolized the end of something, he knew. He’s not going to try for me anymore. He’s not going to keep helping. But why should he? He’s done more than enough. All I do in return is make him miserable, make him sad. I don’t even deserve to get better.
He looked down at the shiny surface of the table, willing himself to feel. He couldn’t. All he saw was his own blank eyes staring back at him, a face devoid of emotion. He didn’t know what to think. The empty bowl still sat in front of him, and as he sat there he realized he couldn’t stand to stare at it anymore. Almost reflexively he leapt to his feet and pitched the glass dish across the kitchen, putting all his strength into destroying it. It crashed down into a hundred tiny shards as it hit the tile floor; the glittering pieces scattered into every corner of the room. The sound was harsh, startling, and it at least served to wake up his mind a little. If Felix heard it, he didn’t care – there was no movement from the direction of the bedroom.
I never understood why he professes to love me, Reuben thought wildly as he knelt amongst the pieces of the ruined bowl. He picked one up in his fingers; it was razor-sharp and viciously pointed. I’m sure he doesn’t anymore. Not after this. I can’t make myself normal for him, I can’t heal for him, so what else am I supposed to do? He saw his reflection in it for a split second and that was all it took, he simply couldn’t stand what he was looking at. Without hesitation, he gripped the chunk of glass between shaking fingers and drew it across his left forearm. He made sure the cut was deep and hard, tearing his white skin open and marring its smooth surface with a trickle of bright crimson. That opened up something within him, released him, and he did it again and again, faster and deeper with each cut. He didn’t feel a thing, couldn’t sense the pain searing through his nerves, couldn’t even connect with the fact that what he was doing could potentially kill him. He just didn’t care. Within minutes his arms were smeared with blood; it ran in rivulets off his hands and dripped in grotesque dotted patterns onto the tiles. Reuben could not have noticed the mess if he’d tried. He tore his shirt off so quickly it ripped at the neck, raked the corner of his makeshift razor in lines down his chest, carved into his stomach. A string of disconnected, irrational thoughts were running through his mind. It doesn’t hurt yet. I have to cut until it hurts. I have to do this to myself for what I did to Felix.
Finally, after what seemed like eternity, Reuben felt a sting near his bellybutton. He’d finally made himself feel, he’d reached his goal. Just as he poised his precious weapon over his tainted skin, ready to start again, he heard a noise from behind him.
“Jesus, Reuben. Not again.”
He turned around, not thinking, revealing his crimson-streaked torso to the other end of the room. His eyes stared hollowly, almost unseeing, at the figure who stood there with tears of horror streaming from his hazel eyes.