Next morning, he was up early, catching up on missed laps on the treadmill. His mother was still asleep in the den, in the back of the house. She couldn't hear the doorbell when it rang just after sunrise. Steve hopped off the treadmill and trotted over to the door.
The new guy was on his doorstep, looking nervous. He asked if he could come in, looked over his shoulder as if he thought he'd been followed. Steve let him in, apologizing because he couldn't remember the guy's name. Adam. Nice name.
The new guy - Adam - got right to the point. The band had told him not to get used to Steve, that they were lining up a new singer, that they would let him meet Steve first so he could see why, but that Steve was too sick to stay, that they needed somebody that would want to get better.
Steve fought back tears. He wasn't sick. There was nothing wrong with him. They saw that last night. Why would they do that to him? Steve went to the treadmill, leaving his guest to fend for himself.
Adam followed, gave pause at the sight of all the exercise machines, but didn't comment. Instead he asked why the band thought Steve was sick. Steve had no answer, he just ran on his machine. Adam sighed, tried again. He said he didn't see anything wrong. He thought Steve might be a little thin, that's all. No reason to kick a guy out.
Steve nearly fell off the treadmill. Was that a complement? A real one? He grinned from ear to ear, pleased as punch that somebody didn't want to force a chocolate cake down his throat. Then he remembered why Adam was there. He was giving him the boot. He asked Adam why he agreed to be the on to carry the band's burden of releasing him.
Adam blinked, then shook his head. He said they hadn't. He knew they weren't letting him go until the promo work for the last album was finished. He just took it upon himself to warn Steve. Adam figured if they were going to wait that long, they could probably be convinced to not drop Steve. He didn't think it was a good idea to get rid of the voice that got them their first real success.
Steve smiled again. A fella could get used to all this ass-kissing. He asked if Adam'd had breakfast. No. Steve went into the kitchen, prepared to make a delicious treat for his new best friend. He froze mid stride.
His mother was already at the stove, all smiles. She said good morning, asked if she was ever going to be introduced. Steve stammered a lame introduction, and his mother took over the conversation. She rattled on about Steve and what a wonderful singer he was, how lucky the band was to have him and if they knew what was good for them, they'd be bending over backwards to get her precious baby anything he damn well wanted. She heaped pile of food on two plates, placed them in front of both men, then announced that she was going to start the laundry.
When she left, Steve looked at his plate and turned absolutely green. He couldn't honestly be expected to eat after yesterday's fiasco. He glanced at Adam, who was happily shoveling food in his mouth. Steve sighed and went to the stove, putting all the food back. He checked behind him, to see if Adam was going to give him a hard time. The man wasn't even aware Steve had left the table. He was too busy enjoying his plate.
Steve shoved down a twinge of jealousy. He wanted to be able to eat with such relish and abandon, but he couldn't afford to. He still had to get rid of his belly.
When Adam finished, he commented how nice it must be to have one's mother around to take care of stuff. Steve snapped. He just couldn't take it. He ran to Adam's side and dropped to both knees. He begged Adam to let him stay at his place, just for a couple of days. He told the guitarist that the woman was driving him utterly crazy. He couldn't say what happened, just that she wasn't the great asset she pretended to be. Steve said his mother was a fucking crazy bitch.
He gasped. Did he say that? Out loud? He didn't mean that, never that, he would never say that, not in a million years, that's not what he said at all, she's the most wonderful person in the world -
Steve grabbed a butter knife, ran to the bathroom, kneeled over the tub and stuck the knife down his throat. He'd only had a couple of bites of food, but they went straight to his head, obviously. He gagged and spat, choking on the relative sharpness of the metal blade. He slammed up and down on the tub, trying to encourage his already upset stomach to release what little bit of food it had. He cut his tongue, could taste the blood, felt it trickle down his throat a little. That did it. He heaved, and the four spoonfuls of breakfast rushed forward, with a mix of acid and bile. He sat back and started to sob loudly.
What the hell is wrong with me??
He turned the faucet on and washed his breakfast down the drain. Still sobbing, he rinsed his mouth out and checked the damage. Not much. He'd be alright. He spat and rinsed a couple more times, retched on the coppery taste of blood, and rinse again. Finally, he went back to the kitchen to try and undo the terrible things he said.
Adam was sitting at the table, looking at Steve with concern. Concern turned to alarm when he saw Steve's bloody, vomit covered shirt. Steve just went to the living room and pulled out a box. He told Adam he wanted to show him something, but Adam picked the box up and went outside. Steve looked perplexed, then realized he was putting it in his car. Adam wanted to take him away. Steve waited for Adam to return, then asked him to help him pack a light bag.
They went to the bedroom and Steve put some clothes together. He grabbed a couple of combs and brushes and stuffed those in the bag. Then he dug in the drawer for his black notebook. He almost left before he remembered his precious scale in the bathroom. He ducked in and grabbed it, shoving it under the other stuff so Adam wouldn't see it. He still felt the need to be secretive about his scale. Satisfied, he turned to Adam and said he was ready. Adam took the stuff and got in his car. He told Steve to follow, so he could get around in his own vehicle.
Steve tiptoed to the backyard, slipped into the sports car and pulled out. He followed Adam through the city, driving for nearly an hour. When they stopped, they were in a suburb not to different from the one Steve left behind. They unloaded Adam's car and took all the stuff inside.
Steve looked around, and was impressed by the decorations in the place. They were warm and inviting, unlike his cold rat trap. The place looked like it had been subjected to a woman's touch. Steve asked who decorated the place. Adam had.
They went to what looked like a den. It was pretty empty, so they just dumped the stuff where they stood, joking that they could take care of that later. Then Adam took him on a minor tour of the house, taking care to show him the bathroom. Then he left him alone, in case Steve wanted to clean up...
He took the hint. He grabbed a change of clothes and stepped in the shower. He was surprised by the variety of bodywashes and lotions and potions and loofahs and scrubbers that sat on the caddy under the spout. He was also surprised by the spout itself - it was attached to a hose, so he could move the spray anywhere he wanted, even upside-down. It seemed like the kind of shower his mother might like.
He came out and was even more surprised to see the unbelievable array of combs, brushes, hair dryer attachments, mousses, sprays and other assorted hair junk. Steve felt a little jealous, knowing he hadn't even tried to take decent care of his hair in the past few months. Then he thought about breakfast and figured Adam just had a thing about hair. After all, he didn't seem overly concerned with his figure.
Steve came out of the bathroom and went to the big box he'd pulled out for Adam. He opened it up and sifted through its contents - several heavy photo albums, overflowing with pictures. He found the one he wanted and took it to the living room, where Adam was dusting. He sat down on the soft, plush sofa and commented on how nice it felt on his back.
Adam stopped dusting and sat down next to him. He was looking right at Steve's face - in Steve's face. He was smiling gently, and said he was glad Steve was feeling comfortable. He said he wanted nothing more than to make Steve comfortable. Then, before Steve could figure out what any of that meant, Adam patted the photo album and asked what was in it.
Steve opened it up and rested it on his lap. He began to talk about the pictures. They were old. Photographs of him as a child. He picked out all the ones with his mother and talked about her for over an hour, trying his damnedest to convince Adam that his sweet mama really was the greatest. Adam just nodded and listened, never questioning, always in agreement. It was unnerving.
When they got to the end of the album, Adam asked if he had any more pictures. Steve told him where they were and Adam popped up and left the room. He came back a few minutes later, carrying the open box. Adam sat back down, settling very close to Steve and asked him for more stories.
Normally, Steve would have jumped up and run from anybody sitting that close to him. But the only people that ever did that were girls - like the one in the attic. This was a man. He didn't want anything. They don't ever want
anything from each other. Steve scooted a little closer, feeling secure that Adam wouldn't hurt him, and fished out another book.
They stayed up all night, flipping through pictures, going through the days of Steve's life. When they got to the last album it was sparse. The pictures began to dwindle when he joined the band, and they all but disappeared, becoming impersonal shots of him on stage. He didn't like the camera anymore, he said. It adds pounds. He thought they all looked unflattering.
Adam disagreed for the first time. He took the album and went back to a candid shot, back when Steve had first started his diet. Adam stared at the picture for a long time and said that he thought the photo was beautiful. Then he looked at Steve and said he thought he was beautiful.
Steve paused. This man did want something. He inched away, afraid of being tied up or insulted or attacked or any number of things that happened when people wanted you. He flinched when Adam reached out to him. The guitarist pulled his hand back and hung his head a little. When he looked up again, his face was red and his eyes were shiny. He sighed and apologized. He told Steve he'd misunderstood, that he didn't mean any harm, and he was welcome to stay as long as he'd like, no strings attached. Then he excused himself and left the room, sniffling a little.
Steve sat there, confused. Why didn't he do what he was going to do? What did he misunderstand? Why was he crying? And why was Steve disappointed? He put the photo albums away and curled up on the sofa, dozing off.
It was late morning when he woke up. The smell of bacon and eggs was heavenly, and Steve wandered into the kitchen, looking for something to eat. There was a skillet on the table, covered by a steamy glass top. Adam was already eating - eggs, bacon and a buttered croissant. Steve chuckled. His father refused to touch the things. The only real men that ate those things were definitely French and didn't know any better.
Steve wasn't a real man. If he saw a croissant, he ate it.
He sat down next to Adam and helped himself - one piece of bacon, half a handful of eggs, and half a croissant. No butter. He took tiny bites of everything on the plate, aware that there was no pressure here, he could not finish and nobody would come medicate him in the middle of the night, nobody would make him eat giant pieces of cake, nobody would tell him he was too skinny.
He ate a quarter of everything. He had to make himself stop, lest he lose control again.
He automatically put his dishes in the sink and started cleaning up the kitchen. When Adam finished, Steve was over him, taking his plate before the fork was down. He put all the food away and wiped down the stove and countertops. He ignored his host's protestations when he started to wipe down the table. But when he found the broom and started sweeping the crumbs from under the table, Adam stood in his way.
Adam asked him what he thought he was doing. Keeping busy was the reply. Adam laughed then, called him a busybody, took his hand and led him out of the kitchen. Steve dropped the broom as he allowed Adam to gently pull him to the den. Adam told him he could keep it for his bedroom if he wanted, and if he needed to 'keep busy', fixing the room to his desire would be a bit more appropriate. Then he left Steve alone in the room.
Steve looked around, taking stock of the situation. He noticed a floor to ceiling curtain against one wall, and went to investigate it. He pulled the curtain back to reveal a sliding glass door that led to an outdoor patio. He opened the door and stepped out, checking out the back of the house. He could see a little ways down there was another sliding glass door. There didn't seem to be a curtain covering it, as he could see a large bed quite clearly through the glass. Steve went back inside, pondering the idea of bedrooms with glass doors that take one into a back yard. It seemed opulent to him. Then he thought about the bathroom, and it seemed perfectly natural.
He hadn't realized how much light the curtains had kept out until he looked around the room again, noticing for the first time how utterly barren it was. It would have looked bare in Steve's house, but in this plush utopia, it seemed a wasteland. He rearranged Adam's few items so they fit snugly in one corner of the room, and covered them with a blanket he'd found. Then he piled his own things in a different corner, situated so he could grab anything he needed in an instant. He turned around, satisfied with his work. All he needed was a decent nightstand, a floor-length mirror and a bed, and he would be set.
He opened the door and nearly ran into Adam, who was about to knock. Adam told him he had some stuff in the garage that Steve might like to use in his room and went past him and out the glass door. Steve followed, wondering what he could have meant.
The garage was full of stuff, alright. There was no room for a car, which would explain why they parked on the street. There was enough furniture to redecorate the White House three times. Amongst all the unused furnishings, wrapped in plastic and leaning against the wall, were a mattress and a box spring. They seemed kinda big, especially for one small person, but at least he wouldn't have to make special arrangements to get a bed of his own. Adam started to pull on the mattress. Steve tried to help, but discovered, to his displeasure, that he was too weak to be of much use. Adam seemed to make more headway without Steve's help. Reluctantly, he stepped aside to allow Adam to drag both pieces into the house unassisted.
Instead, he went further into the garage, investigating. He felt more than a little guilty, being so nosy, but he couldn't help himself. He found the head and footboards for the bed and managed to drag them closer to the garage entrance. Then he went back in to see what else there was to see.
He found a long closet mirror, which he promptly claimed for his own, a short, wide dresser, and a matching end table. He took each item to the front of the garage, where it would disappear after he turned around. He figured Adam must have approved of his choices. He checked the garage one last time, picking over the flashy items and the slightly broken pieces. He found a large ceramic tub, not quite big enough for an adult to sit in, but bigger than a washbasin. It had a soft painting of a pink rose on one side, and inside of it sat a matching pitcher. Steve thought immediately of his father's mother, washing up in the open, completely starkers, on the back of the property. It was perfect. He took that too.
Adam was waiting for him, this time, and gave him the oddest look when he saw what Steve was struggling with, but he took the tub and carried it wordlessly to the room. Steve told him it reminded him of his childhood on the farm, but Adam just made a noncommittal noise and set it on the floor.
That was alright with Steve. That's not what he wanted it for anyway.
Adam set the bed up where Steve wanted it, and helped him unpack his belongings a bit more properly. They hung the mirror up and stood back to look at their handiwork. Steve thanked Adam profusely, for letting him crash in his house and allowing him to use all his stuff. Adam just shrugged and said the stuff belonged to someone he used to know. Then he told Steve where he could be found if he needed anything, and left.
The only thing Steve needed at the moment was to pull out his scale and notebook. He sat on the floor, against the door, and opened his notebook to the very last tab. The pages were photocopied from a nutritional textbook, an index of the nutritional values of the most common foods in the American diet. Steve looked up the items from his breakfast, estimated their weight, guestimated the caloric count, and almost died right then and there.
He hopped up, stripped down and jumped on the scale, afraid of the damage he might have endured.
He'd gained half a pound since his last recorded weight. That simply would not do. He pulled his pants on and grabbed the ceramic pitcher. He went outside, found the water hose and filled his pitcher up with water. He lugged his load back to his room, closed and locked the glass door, and drew the curtains. He went to find Adam and ask if it was alright to turn the radio up really loud. He got permission, and turned on the radio. Pop standards. Sinatra and the like. Yuck. Steve liked that kind of stuff in a mellow mood, but that was the last thing he wanted for his current task. He found a hard rock station, something that would be loud enough to cover any weird noises without scaring all the neighbors. Then he went back to his room.
He pushed the low dresser up against the door and put the tub and pitcher on top of it. He went back to the scale, to see if any of his hustling and bustling changed anything. Nothing. Sighing, he fished his pendant out of his recently unpacked clothes and got to work.
Ten minutes later, he was scribbling in his notebook, taking careful note that an hour's wait to eliminate unwanted food was not as successful as he preferred, but it did have a positive effect on the scale's reading.
Steve took a nap, and was awakened by the smell of tuna fish. He pulled on a shirt, moved the dresser out of the way (careful not to spill the contents of the pitcher, or, more importantly, the tub) and eased out of his room. He went to the kitchen, where Adam was eating yet again. Steve raised both eyebrows at the sight. Adam wasn't as lithe as Steve, but he wasn't as big as a house either. Where in the hell did he put it all??
Steve saw a huge bowl of tuna salad on the table, a giant box of crackers, two bags of potato chips and a loaf of bread. Adam was eating some of everything. He didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with all the food at the table. Maybe Adam was like his mama. Maybe he just wasn't as... emotional about it. Besides, he wasn't fat. He was big. Definitely over six feet tall. He might actually need to eat all that food, just to get around.
Well, not all that food.
Steve sat down and put a spoonful of tuna on a piece of bread, spread it out, folded the bread in half, cut the half sandwich into four strips, and ate one strip. He savored it, enjoying the cool, salty fish and mayo mixture. He looked longingly at the other three pieces of sandwich when Adam spoke, startling the hell out of him. He asked if Steve wasn't hungry. Steve thought about it, decided that he wasn't. Adam chuckled and said he'd better eat something, or he might fly away. Steve didn't laugh. He knew it wouldn't last long. He looked at his plate and wanted to throw it across the room.
He felt a hand on his arm. Adam's. Adam was apologizing, promising no more skinny jokes. He said that people always cracked dumb blonde and dumb jock and dumb blonde jock jokes around him. He hated them. He hadn't thought about the fact that people might always be teasing Steve about being so little. He was really sorry.
Steve was thoughtful. He'd been teased about being skinny, sure, but it didn't bother him. That was when he was younger, and everybody teased everybody else about something. But now, people were on his case, trying to tell him he was losing too much weight, that he didn't look good, that he was sick. And Adam still never said any of that stuff. He smiled, and ate the rest of his sandwich.
He didn't stay to clean up right away. He had to make a pit stop at his ceramic tub first. The notes in his book were more favorable this time. Immediate purging seemed to be an option for public dining...
He bounced back into the kitchen after emptying his tub into the toilet, ready to clean up. Adam was still chomping, so Steve took his time, chatting about his chores on the farm, and how housework seemed like such a simple, mindless thing to him. Adam took deep interest in everything he said, never dismissing a word. It was great. He didn't have to worry about talking too much, or sounding weird, or anything.
He never wanted to go home.