A week passed, the smoothest week of his life. He even managed to loose more weight, despite the fact that he was eating up to a cup of food a day. And Adam never chastened him, or tried to make him come out of his room, or left him alone midsentence. It was a glorious week.
Then they had to go to work.
Steve was nervous as fuck. He wasn't keeping food down, whether he wanted to or not. He was paranoid about getting kicked out of the band, he was paranoid about his mother finding out where he was. He was paranoid about gaining weight, he was paranoid about the lack of decent exercise. Most of all, he was paranoid about his stomach.
It wasn't ripped anymore, by any stretch of the imagination. Now it was completely flat, the muscles having atrophied from lack of food. But it wasn't dipping in. He just looked kind of cylindrical. Round.
He was on the scale every ten minutes from the moment he woke up, to the time they left the house. He was convinced that the scale wasn't being truthful with him, that the reason his belly was so devoid of any definition was because more fat had seeped in around the protrusions, masking them. But the reading on the scale never changed.
Adam had to drag Steve out of the house before he would leave the scale alone. He flexed the muscles in his legs through the whole drive, barely able to hold a conversation with Adam. When they arrived at the rehearsal hall, Steve hopped from the car and paced diligently, trying to shed that excess fat on his belly. He must have made fifteen passes by the time the band was ready for him.
They still stopped their conversations whenever he walked by, which made him even more paranoid about his future with the band. They responded well to his singing, but when the music was done, they edged away from him, as if they feared some contagious disease. He wanted to cry.
Adam strode over purposefully and asked him if he was still too upset for a bite to eat. Steve snapped to attention. He hadn't even realized Adam was aware he wasn't keeping his food down. He shrugged, honestly uncertain about his ability to ingest anything. Adam smiled and said that was better than a flat out no. He told him the band wanted to go to lunch, but they didn't want to leave Steve behind, so they were at a bit of a loss. Steve thought that was odd and told him so. If they didn't want him anymore, why care about him coming to lunch?
Because Adam told them where Steve went he went.
Steve could have kissed him.
He agreed to go to lunch with them. He thought it was marvelous that Adam didn't make him agree to order anything. He found himself following Adam around, talking his head off, never bothering to try and maintain any of the insane exercising he'd started the morning with.
When they met up for lunch, the band was more than a little surprised to see Steve get out of Adam's car and head toward them. No one made any smart remarks. They just smiled and went in. Steve was glad Adam had them all in check.
The restaurant had a full service buffet. They sat near it, rather far from the restrooms, Steve noted, and picked up the threads of their conversations. Steve didn't look at the menu, and knew they were all noticing. He didn't care. He didn't care if they didn't believe Adam when he told them he wasn't feeling well. He was with his new best friend, and that's what mattered.
When the waitress came by, she took everyone's order. The rest of the band ordered entrees, but Adam ordered the buffet. The waitress looked at Steve and looked around the table, as if she wasn't sure she should be bothering, but she smiled and set her pen ready in the most professional manner possible. Steve surprised everyone by ordering the buffet.
When she left, Adam and Steve went to the buffet together. At first, Steve picked up a smaller portion of everything Adam took. They went back to the table and began eating, not bothering to wait for anyone else's order. Steve was finished in a matter of moments and was at the buffet, piling food on his plate before he realized it. When he came back, everyone was staring at the three inch high 'salad' on his plate - complete with a fried drumstick, a slice of pizza and a hunk of meatloaf. He was self conscious at first, but Adam refilled his own plate even higher, and shoveled food in his mouth despite the crazy looks he was getting. Steve plunged into his own plate, grateful that all eyes were off him.
By the time everybody else's food came, Adam and Steve had made three trips apiece, and were working on their fourth. They ate as if they might never see food again. Steve wondered vaguely if he was going to be able to stop. If he didn't think about it too much, it was great, eating everything in sight.
Then he stopped, mid chew. That pain was back. The one that made him feel like his stomach was coming apart from the inside. He forced himself to swallow the unchewed morsel, then looked around for the quickest route to the restroom.
He realized it would be easier to get to the exit, but he didn't know if there was any place he could... relieve himself without attracting too much attention. Still, better to do it out there than at the table with his bandmates. He smiles sweetly and excused himself, not aware that he was rubbing his gigantic, horrifically bloated belly. He didn't see the band starring at his pregnant gut.
He waddled around to the back of the establishment, and discovered there were too many cars back there. Anybody could come into the parking lot and see him. He saw a women's boutique a few yards away that looked a little more private, and headed over there. He went inside and, rubbing the basketball protrusion under his shirt, asked if they had a public restroom. Yes, in the back.
He found it almost too late. He could already feel the cold, wet blob that used to be cottage cheese and canned peaches fill his mouth and spill into his hand as he dashed into the men's room. Ignoring the surprised men he nearly bowled over in his haste, Steve ducked into the first stall, one hand over his mouth, the other reaching out for the stall's door. An invisible force seemed to punch his belly in, and the yellow and white mush spewed violently between the fingers splayed over his mouth. Leaning against the back of the stall's door, he used his free hand to rip open his black button-down, so as to keep it from getting dirty. He reached behind him and managed to lock the door just before the rest of the cottage cheese wound up on the wall behind the toilet.
He was so out of control he never got anything in the bowl itself, just on the floor or the handle or the walls. He was loud, too. He knew there were boyfriends and husbands in the restroom, being grossed out by all the grunting and heaving and splashing and moaning, but he didn't care. He was sick. What could he do about it?
After a while, his stomach settled down, flattened out. He straightened up and checked himself. By some amazing miracle, he didn't get anything on himself. He looked at the stall, where it all ended up. He snuck out of the stall, rinsed his mouth out, fussed with his hair, buttoned up his shirt and strolled out of the restroom. He let the girl at the counter know someone made an awful mess, they should tend to it right away, and went back to the restaurant. It didn't occur to him that everybody in the store knew precisely who made the mess.
When he got back to the table, they were ordering dessert. Steve declined to order and settled in next to his new best friend. Adam smiled wanly, then returned to his mile high plate. Steve wondered how in the world he could eat like that, feeling a bit queasy after his episode, but he kept his mouth shut. Dessert came and Steve chewed on his fingernails while the others ate cake and pie and cookies and ice cream and everything else. He was about to ask for a spoonful of anything when Adam leaned over and told him he'd be right back. Steve felt panic rising in his throat, but Adam made a joke about seeing an old man about a dog, and everyone laughed, and Steve relaxed. A trip to the urinal shouldn't take more than a minute.
Steve forced himself not to jump on Adam's case when he got back to the table ten minutes later. After all, it's a crowded restaurant. Maybe there was a line. Without thinking, he reached under the table and grabbed Adam's hand. Adam didn't flinch, just gave Steve's hand a reassuring squeeze, as he carried on a conversation with the others like nothing was happening.
And just what was happening? Why was he holding this man's hand like this? Why did he feel so wild when Adam left the table? Why is he so... so... attached? He frowned when Adam pulled his hand free, but relaxed when Adam announced he was ready to go home. Steve excused himself and followed Adam out of the restaurant so closely a dime couldn't get between them.
Steve smiled the whole way home, feeling a little giddy. He could see Adam was just as happy, and hoped it had something to do with him. They went in the house and Steve ran to the sofa and plopped down on it, patting the cushion next to him. Adam strolled over and sat next to Steve, who promptly leaned against his shoulder. Steve laughed and said he didn't know what had gotten into him. Adam just smiled and ran his fingers though Steve's hair.
Steve jerked back. He didn't like that. That was something people did when they were about to torture you in the name of love. He held Adam at arm's length, narrowing his eyes at the blonde man. Adam looked hurt and confused, then left the living room.
Steve folded his arms and told himself that man was up to no good anyway, and was just trying to get things he had no business getting. He vowed not to fall under Adam's spell again. Then he stalked into his bedroom. He saw the scale there, still on, still announcing he was just over 78 pounds. Steve reset the scale and got on, figuring things couldn't get any worse.
That was it. He couldn't take it anymore. He thought of the whisper-thin girl at the drugstore and the little bottle she hid from him. He knew that little bottle held the answer. He needed to find out what it was, what it did, and how long it would take to do it. He knocked once at Adam's door and said he was going out. He didn't wait for a reply.
He found the store again without too much trouble and went in. He found the digestive-aides quickly and marched over to the area he saw the girl reaching in. He put his hand on the shelf above his head and patted, searching for little bottles. Bingo! He pulled one down and read the label.
Syrup of Ipecac
Whatever the hell that was. He turned it over and grimaced. For dysentery?? How could this he-
Emetic. Indication: Induces vomiting in cases of non-corrosive poisoning.
He reached up and grabbed four more bottles. They were so tiny, not even a whole three inches tall. He didn't want to run out.
He took his purchases to the front and waited. When it was his turn, the young man at the counter made a face at the items on his conveyor belt. He took one look at Steve and understanding dawned on his face. Steve glared back defensively, but the clerk kept his opinions to himself. Steve paid for his bottles, snatched the bag from the bagboy and left.
When he got to Adam's house, he went straight to his room and slammed the door. He opened a bottle and took a sip. He spit it out immediately. Awful! Horribly bitter, worse than any medication his mother had ever tried to force down his throat. He started to collect the other bottles and take them back for a refund, but he thought about the tiny waisted girl in the store that night. If this is what she endured for her impossible figure, then he would do the same.
He pinched his nose and took another sip, still tasting the awful bitterness. He smacked his lips, then took another sip. If he had to taste something so vile, he wanted to make sure it would work. He went to his pitcher of water and gargled, trying to wash the taste off his tongue. Then he went to the living room to watch television.
Adam was there, and he wasn't any happier. When Steve sat down, Adam moved over a bit. Not a whole lot. Just enough to let Steve know he wasn't supposed to get too close. Whatever. It would keep him from getting too snugly anyway. They watched television in silence, both of them too stubborn to try and work out whatever it was that happened.
Steve's mood improved as he became more engrossed in the made-for-TV-movie. It was a murder mystery, and a very good one at that. He forgot about all the stress before going to work, the painful lunch, the silly spat with his roommate, the trip to the drugstore. He was too busy trying to figure out whodunit. Right when they were about to explain everything, however, he was rudely reminded.
Never, never, never, never had he experienced anything like this. His stomach was on fire. He doubled over and moaned, unable to do anything else. Adam made an irritated noise, obviously more interested in the television than Steve's discomfort. Steve put his head between his knees, fighting a devastating wave of vertigo. He sucked shallow, hoarse breaths between moans and tried to straighten out enough to stand. Instead, he toppled to the floor, curling in on himself.
Instantly hands were on him, lifting him to the sofa, unfurling his cramped body. Adam asked what happened. Steve could only moan and rub his burning belly. Adam helped him to his feet and steered him to the bathroom. Adam eased Steve into the shower, fully dressed, and turned the water on. Steve could feel Adam rubbing his back when he started to gag, and felt him holding his shoulders when he started to heave. He stayed there for half an hour, crying and moaning and cramping and vomiting, until Adam finally decided he'd had enough.
Steve sank to the shower floor, still moaning and retching, and watched helplessly as Adam turned the water off and left the bathroom. He couldn't gather up the strength to cry out when Adam left him there. He just moaned and wondered how long it would take him to die.
He was curled in on himself again when he felt a hand roughly shake him. He looked up at Adam, who was holding one of the bottles of ipecac. Adam asked if he'd taken any. Steve looked away, knowing he was in trouble for sure. He put his head on the cold, wet tile and tried not to choke when he retched again. He felt a pair of strong hands lift and turn his head, then he was being pulled up into a sitting position. Adam climbed in the shower and turned the water back on, took the shower hose down from its hook, and offered Steve the cool, wet stream.
He swallowed with some difficulty at first, as his throat kept trying to lock, but he managed to get some water, which cooled his stomach. It didn't settle it, however, as every drop came rushing back in a matter of seconds. When it got all over Adam, Steve started to wail. He was the world's worst houseguest. He was the world's worst everything.
Adam just held the water out and rubbed Steve's shoulders. He listened to Steve cry about what a terrible, awful, pathetic, useless person he was, and then he wrapped his arms around Steve. He said Steve was a great singer, a great friend, and a great person that made a painful mistake, that's all.
Steve calmed down after that. He didn't want to rock the boat anymore. He didn't want Adam to leave in a huff. And he didn't want to not want Adam around. He didn't care what would happen later. He never got more than he could handle. Not ever.
Steve rose shakily and stepped out of the shower. He caught a glimpse of himself in the bathroom mirror, and had to laugh. He looked like the tail of a drowned cat. He could see Adam smiling behind him, could see him coming to wrap his big arms around Steve's tiny, quivering body. Steve felt safe like that. He turned and put his arms around Adam. When Adam put his fingers in Steve's wet hair, he didn't flinch. He just smiled.
Adam released him and pulled a towel off a shelf. He wrapped Steve up and told him to stay put. He left the room for a few moments and came back with a portable electric heater and a big, fluffy bathrobe. He plugged the heater in and turned it to high, then turned to a shivering Steve. He told him he'd be down the hall if he needed anything. Then he left again.
Steve stripped out of his wet clothes and toweled off, then put the bathrobe on. He stood close to the heater, trying to warm his freezing body. He clutched the neck of the robe, keeping it close, wondering what was wrong with him. Rather than warming up, he felt colder than ever. He became alarmed when his teeth started to chatter loudly. He wasn't wet anymore, so he should be equalizing at the very least. Chilled alarm turned to breathless panic, before it gave way to darkness as Steve's icy body slipped to the floor.