Chapter 17: Theatrics
I’m hoping the ground I’m stood on has previously swallowed one whole and can do it again, and that the Earth is flat so I don’t turn into goo in its mantle but instead keep dropping and dropping far, far away from this situation. The situation? I don’t flee fast enough to avoid something bad happening.
And that bad thing is Dom seeing me, and the suss smile that creeps onto his face. It’s just his natural look, I tell myself. But, he knows shit, my anxiety decides. He knows shit, and he knows shit, and he KNOWS shit. But what shit? Something. What something? Just something.
Dom and nothing making sense catapults me face first into ocean-sized anxiety. I have to get away so I can try and make sense of everything, but I’m frozen. Nothing making sense begins a daunting chain of extreme thoughts like, who even created ‘sense’? Who created the word? Who even created words? Who made life? What if life is just a simulation? And who the heck made life a simulation? Am I even real? Nothing feels real because nothing makes sense.
Sometimes, in moments like these, I know I’m digging through tunnels in the parts of the brain we’re told we can’t go to, the parts that if we discover, we’re over because we weren’t meant to know them. I’m just trying to find a switch at this point so I can flip off all the thoughts making me go mental. I can switch it all off just like that.
I’m losing myself, I feel it, and I need to snap out of it, but all I can think about is how the last thirty seconds of my life has flashed by so fast with a million thoughts cramming in, and I get lightheaded.
“Hey,” Gemma grabs my arm, ripping my eyes away from Dom. I shrug her off and start to head back to campus, but she only follows. “Hey, what was that look Christian gave you?”
I keep walking, fast, because hopefully, exercise will help add back on the years of my life being consumed by stress and anxiety. It’s kind of funny you want back time when time does you so dirty. All those times you were bullied, all those times you spent locked up inside and still do, and the world just goes on and on and on. Now you want more time? More time for more bad things to happen?
“Hey! You need to talk, Tommy.”
I stop, looking at the ground and then eventually at her. “No, I don’t.”
“Yeah, you do, because you don’t look okay and I care about you and I want to help you so you need to talk, got it?”
I give her an exhausted smile. She cares too much. “You of all people should know that one of the worst things for someone suffering from anxiety is being cared about.”
“I know,” she glances back and forth between me and the commotion that doesn’t seem to be dying down. I don’t think she does know.
“You want to help me, but the only way you can help me is by getting rid of the thoughts, and there is nothing, nothing, in a thousand lifetimes you can do to get rid of them all. There’s not even anything I can do,” I laugh sadly, “unless it’s good old suicide. There’s no point in wasting your energy on caring about me.”
“Tommy,” I want her to stop, “I know you don’t want it but you can’t just tell someone not to care about you. It doesn’t work like that. I’m sorry if you don’t want to hear it, but I’m worried about you, and I’m worried this is even coming out of your mouth.”
The tone in her voice makes me feel like there’s truly something wrong with me, way past the anxiety and the unsound thoughts. Like there’s a permanent wedge between me and sanity and my hands have been cut off so I’m reaching for it but I can’t grab it. I am pure lunacy.
“‘Good old suicide’? It’s not a joke, Tommy...”
My emotions are going through a meat grinder for the best. I care about her feelings and it’s better if I don’t. I’ll just blame it on the anxiety later when she calls me out for being a horrible friend.
I don’t know what to say to her that won’t make her worried, so I don’t bother trying. “Analyse me some other time,” I mumble, and I’m turning to leave when she grabs my wrist and says one last thing.
“If all of this is happening because of Christian, if you’re losing your mind because of Christian, then there’s nothing about him to be romanticized. Tap out if it’s costing you your sanity.”
Gemma always knows what to say even when she doesn’t know what’s going on. Always, she’s right. For that, I soak up her words for a few seconds, closing my eyes. I reopen them when I face her. “Christian’s not costing me my sanity. I am.”
I leave. I decide I need to leave campus too and go back home, even if it’s just for a day. Staying here will be writing myself a mental death sentence.
When everyone finally leaves, I get the quiet I’ve wanted since Megan’s outbreak. I put away my journal, gritting my teeth at her audacity to try and burn that too. Most people who record their secrets on paper wouldn’t mind if it went up in flames. It’s therapeutic. But my journal is a series of stacked receipts just in case.
I don’t care about the half of my belongings burnt to a crisp outside. They’re replaceable, but the days and weeks and months of journal entries aren’t. Thoughts I can’t admit to anyone, thoughts so bad I bury them then open the shutters like nothing ever happened. Thoughts that make me me. It would be like sending myself up into flames.
Megan’s whole scene plays over and over in my head, and the look on Tommy’s face plays over that. I know I have to say something to convince him I haven’t been with Megan whilst getting to know to him. A lie to save myself, in which I’m only saving myself from Dom.
“This could blow the whole deal.” Shit, I summoned him and the stench of weed. He stands in my way, laughing at the transparent distaste I have for him. He doesn’t move so I barge past him, unbothered by if he wants a private chat because the frat house is full.
“You fuck this up, I’ma fuck you up, cool, bro?”
I stop, turn, and laugh myself. “You sound so worried, but you smile like a sociopath.” He gives me a look that’s a duh guaranteed.
“Carpenter’s meant to be the good laugh, not you. It’s a bonus. Shouldn’t have gotten back with Megan. Look at the mess you made.”
“You told me to break up with her.”
“You got back with her, bro. You caused this,” he says, then the grin drops off his face like a whole other personality grips the wheel. He steps up to me, my personal space breached. I smell the weed on him stronger, the booze, the patheticness. He looks like he’s going to spit -- the desperation -- and I silently dare him to. “Fix it,” he orders.
It’s his turn to barge past me, and he does it with no mercy. Knocks me right into the wall and goes off reeking of sociopathy and issues. I hear him from here fucking with the first years. Not even Mrs Morales can get through to him. She stopped trying to when they unspokenly agreed that he runs the frat house and that was that.
I head to campus to see Tommy because I know he’s probably spilling over with anxiety, and a part of me doesn’t like that I’ve caused it. I don’t go because Dom needs me to, or because I need me to. I go because Tommy needs me to. On the way to the dorms, I stop at the coffee shop and buy a coffee... and a cheesecake slice.
Knocking on a door has never been so intimidating before, but I suck it up and do it anyway. Tommy swings the door back and falls into his steady silence, the one where I never have any idea what’s specifically going on in his mind, all I know is that it’s racing, full tank and he’s just trying to pop the tires to get everything to stop. This time I know he’s thinking how wrong he was letting me into his life.
“Do you expect me to fight myself for you?” he asks with no further explanation. I stand, mouth open but no words coming out, coffee and cheesecake in my hand waiting to be in his.
“U-uh,” I stutter, “n-no?”
“But that’s what I’m doing. Fighting myself, fighting the thoughts saying you’re going to end up being not what I wanted. I am fighting myself for you. Give me one reason why I should keep doing that after what I just found out.”
I keep my mouth shut as a student passes by, arms stacked full of books. I wait until they’re inside their dorm before I ask, “Can I come inside?”
He lets me in reluctantly. It stabs realizing he doesn’t want me anywhere near him. Ice picks me, actually, several times with digs that elevate until it’s reached the top of the mountain where my heart resides at glacial temperatures. I close the door softly behind me. He waits patiently for an answer. I never prepared a lie.
I notice his side of the dorm. I’ve caught him in the middle of packing his laptop, phone, and chargers amongst other items. It would look like someone packing essentials for a long day out if the day wasn’t coming to an end.
“Where are you going?” I scan his face. He wants to yell at me, I can see it in the way he’s losing his calm composure.
“You can walk right back out that door if it suits you.” Tommy’s always been so soft-spoken it almost doesn’t feel like I’m even speaking to him anymore. Just the complete prototype of anxiety. Part of him doesn’t want a reason, I can tell. It’s easier believing I’m the bad guy. It’s easier to erase me from his life and from his anxiety. “Answer me.”
But he can’t have it the easy way. I need to be in his life. I kind of want him to be in mine. So, I pull myself together and give him a reason.
“You’re coffee,” is my reason, “and here’s coffee,” I offer the cup in my hand. He doesn’t take it, then he does. Can’t resist a coffee, no matter the time of day.
“Thanks, I hope you didn’t order this with more shitty excuses,” he responds, full of sass.
I don’t know who I’m looking at. I kind of like it, though. Through all the self-crumbling, he’s got an attitude. Inspired by circumstance, obviously, but it’s sexy. I can’t help but smile, though it’s the absolute wrong time to. Hand him a knife and I’m sure he will gut me.
I remember why I’m here -- to not lose him.
“I broke up with Megan when I told you I did,” true, “but she was acting like we were still together and I got fed up with it,” false. The lie rolls of my tongue so smoothly I should be teaching How to Cheat Your Way Through Life classes. “She couldn’t take the truth, plus she’s into theatrics.”
Skepticizm engraves into his face instantly. Of course, he won’t believe me. Everything’s an of course with him. Moments of total silence pass, his face going through, like, five different emotions at once. When I think he’s going to reply, he doesn’t. The second he looks me in the eyes, I can see he’s debating with himself, fighting himself for me, and that’s as good as an answer gets with him.
I put down the cheesecake. He watches my every movement, holding his breath. I take a step towards him. I don’t know what I’m doing, this part wasn’t planned, but I get even closer. Each step is an invitation for him to stop me, but he never does. I put down the coffee for him.
Forces stronger than me slowly place my hands on his shoulders, which I rub with the subconscious intent to calm him. He tenses under my touch, then he’s a cushion. He’s still fighting himself for me, this time it’s physically.
One of my hands trails up to his neck, then to his jaw. He leans away from my touch then into it. I’m noticing a pattern -- a teasing pattern. His eyes close as he suddenly grips my wrist.
“If you’re going to do something, do it before I change my mind.”
He opens his eyes after blessing me with consent. It’s a blessing because one, the deal, two, I really freaking want to kiss him right now. Not because of the deal, not because I’m an asshole playing him, but because I’m an asshole playing him who, at this moment, doesn’t want to play him anymore.
I take too long to move, he could gut me for that too. Instead, he grips my hair and yanks me in like the world is disintegrating pixel by pixel in the simulation that is life, and there’s no time for questioning anything or the you’re no fucking good for me theatrics (classes on melodrama by Megan every day at fuck-Christian-I-dump-you o’clock).
His lips clasp mine and it’s a mousetrap because now that I’m kissing him like this -- without the deal being the reason -- I’ve got a big problem.
Feelings were never meant to be a part of this.
But I’m waltzing myself into the largest pit of quicksand here. He lets me get him onto his bed and I can’t resist it. Can’t resist running my hands underneath his hoodie, he should stop me. Can’t resist kissing his neck, please stop me. Can’t resist the way he rubs against me, too late I’m a boulder ball hurtling off the edge of the Grand Canyon.
I get his hoodie and t-shirt off. He gets mine off. We’re a mess of temptation. The heat radiating between us I’ve felt many times before, which I can’t say the same for him, but this feels different. I’d be okay if we were under the covers and I was suffocating right now, that’s how deep in the quicksand I am.
Ergo, I can’t help but run my eyes over him. He squirms when my pause to appreciate him gets too long, so I bring my lips closer again. He noses at my cheek and I kiss him a second time, but suddenly I feel him slipping, losing life in the way he kisses me back.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I believe you,” he finally says, avoiding my eyes, cheeks flushed and lips wet, “but I need to be alone.”
I know I shouldn’t question it because his quick change of mood is a byproduct of his anxiety and there’s nothing he or me can do to change that, but things were just getting good -- or bad with the continuous sinking in quicksand...
“Why?” I voice it as softly as I can, but that riles him up.
“That whole scene with your ex? Yeah, my heart’s still in my fucking ass and my anxiety’s got me popping more pills than the prescribed daily amount.” He pushes me away. “I need to be alone. I need to get better.”
He’s flint and I’d be stupid to strike steel on that.
“Okay,” I get up, putting my clothes back on. “Thanks for sparing me the theatrics, I’ve had enough of that today.” I’m only trying to lighten both our moods, but his anxiety is bigger than me. I sigh when he says nothing back.
“Enjoy your coffee,” I say more harshly than needed, and as I’m leaving, I mutter under my breath, “and your damn cheesecake,” then I close the door behind me with more force than necessary.
I get back to the frat house in a bitter mood, and I avoid Dom because I don’t want to get arrested for murder. Falling asleep later, I tell myself maybe Tommy will come around soon.
The next philosophy class we have, I hope he will at least say hi, but he doesn’t. I hope for that or a smile or something class after class after class, but the next thing I know, a month has gone by with him ignoring me.
A whole month.