After the passage of an indeterminable amount of time, a woman appeared balancing a small, steamy bowl on a tray. She barely glanced at Steve, who was still sobbing hysterically. Instead, she set the tray on a counter out of reach, found a chair and dragged it over to the right side of the bed. She fiddled with some controls, and the head of the bed rose a little, so Steve was sitting up at just under a 45-degree angle. She sat in the chair, scootched it around until she had it where she wanted it, and went back to the tray. She brought it to the bed and placed it over his lap. Then she unstrapped his right hand and held up a plastic spoon. She told him the other straps would come off after she got the spoon back.
He sniffled and managed to get control of himself, taking the spoon in a trembling hand. He asked how much he had to eat. She told him there was half a cup of broth in the bowl. He could eat as much or as little as he liked, but he knew what agreement was made for what reward. Then she dug in one of her pockets and pulled out a romance novel and started reading.
He thought about trying to trick her into thinking he'd had the whole bowl, but before he could implement any plans she told him she'd seen all the tricks, and if he came up with a new one it was going on the notepad she had in the other pocket. She never even looked up from her book.
Steve sighed and took a spoonful of the steamy broth. He brought it to his pursed lips and - hot! It burned his lips before he'd had a chance to taste it. He whimpered and asked if they had any cooler soup. The woman put her book down just long enough to give him a you-gotta-be-kidding-me look, then returned to her novel. He sighed again and put the spoon down.
A few minutes later he tried again. The soup was a little too cool, but that made it easier to eat. After the third spoonful, he handed the spoon back to the woman. She frowned a little, then looked shocked to see him grab the bowl, bring it to his face, and tip his head back. He chugged the whole thing, then plonked the bowl down on the tray. He wiped his mouth and tried not to grimace. The stuff was too cold, too greasy, and not salty enough. He'd never had hospital food before, and he didn't plan on having it again.
The woman looked at the clock and told him she would be back in an hour to take the other restraints off, provided his sheets were still clean. Then she left. He stared at the door long after she'd gone, flabbergasted that the bitch was actually leaving him tied up. He'd kept his end of the bargain, so what's the deal? Nobody said he'd have to wait after eating the damned soup!
True to her word, the woman reappeared an hour later. She checked the bed and the surrounding area thoroughly, even getting down on her hands and knees. When she was satisfied, she unstrapped him completely. She told him that if he needed to use the restroom and was uncomfortable about a woman's company, she would call an orderly to stay with him instead. Then she sat down in her chair and pulled out her book.
He looked at her, horrified. He couldn't take a piss by himself? No way. No fucking way. He sat there and let her read a couple of pages before he asked if he could speak to the doctor. She shrugged, paged the doctor, then told Steve to be patient, the doctor would be there as soon as possible, but he was probably in a session.
Steve settled back in his pillows and waited. He didn't care how long it took the doctor to arrive. As long as it was understood that Stephen Morantes did not pee in front of other people, the doctor could take all fucking day and night.
The silver haired man waltzed in, all smiles again. He noted the lack of restraints on Steve's limbs and praised him on finishing his meal. He sidled over to the left side of the bed and bent over just enough to be face to face with Steve. Then he asked in his most sincere voice yet what could he do for Steve now.
Steve declared that he would not be using the bathroom with an escort. He would be using the toilet alone, as he had been for almost thirty years. He was not an infant in diapers, nor was he a toddler that had not yet been potty trained. He was a grown man, and he would like to be treated with some small smidgen of dignity and respect. He ignored the sarcastic sounding snort coming from the direction of the bitchy bookwormish babysitter.
The doctor looked at the floor, shook his head, and looked back up with a mildly pained expression on his face. He explained that he understood that this was a very disconcerting and even disagreeable method of treatment, but that Steve's case was unusually extreme, and that, as a doctor, he was only interested in the safety of his patient. He told Steve that he knew that the temptation for purging would arise, and that would be a very dangerous thing for Steve to do to his body right at the moment.
Steve blinked. Huh? He just wanted to pee without an audience. How was that unsafe? He told the doctor he wasn't going to the bathroom with somebody else, and that was final.
The doctor nodded and called the bitch with the book. He told her to find an orderly and have him bring a bedpan. He told her she could go sit with one of the girls again, that he would keep Mr. Morantes company until the orderly arrived. The bitchy woman nodded and left.
Steve was livid. He sat there and fumed silently. When the orderly arrived with the bedpan, the doctor instructed him that if Mr. Morantes changed his mind about using the toilet, he was to be escorted and watched carefully, not simply allowed to keep the door open. The orderly nodded boredly, as if he'd heard it all before.
Steve, on the other hand, had heard more than enough. He swung his legs over the railing and hopped out of bed. He marched right up to the doctor, and though he only came up to the middle of the man's chest, Steve chewed the startled doctor out. He told him there was no reason for him to be in the hospital, that he was fine, he was in no danger of death, he was perfectly healthy, and they were not going to drain him of his dignity, self-respect, or hard earned money. He demanded the doctor tell him just why the hospital felt it necessary to keep a healthy, grown man under lock and key, and why he had to wait for his mother to come claim him like some juvenile delinquent.
The doctor tried to stammer a reply about the fragile mental state of most patients with Steve's condition, but Steve cut him off, demanding a psychiatric evaluation. He wasn't suicidal or homicidal (yet), he was perfectly capable of functioning in society and he was willing to take a test to prove it.
The doctor fell silent. He looked at Steve for a long while, then instructed the orderly to retrieve Mr. Morantes' personal belongings. He waited for the orderly to leave, then tried to explain to Steve that though he couldn't force him to stay, he really believed it was in Steve's best interest to stay and try to recover more fully.
Steve just flipped him off.
The doctor looked shock for the briefest moment, then schooled his face into one of those annoyingly placid expressions he always wore. But Steve smiled, having cracked the doctor's well formed façade. When someone entered the room with a clear plastic bag full of Steve's belongings, he snatched it and pointed imperiously at the doorway. The doctor took the hint and left Steve alone to change.
Steve pulled on his clothes and was more than a little disturbed that the slacks he'd peeled off before fainting were staying up without the aid of a belt or suspenders. That wasn't a very good sign. He put his hands on his hips. There was at least a two and a half inch space on his belly between his hands. He wondered what the hospital had been pumping in him while he was sleeping, and how long it would take to reverse the damage.
He left the room and went to the receptionist's desk. The man behind the counter gave him a pile of papers to shuffle through and sign, then explained how to get out of the hospital. Steve scrawled his name where indicated, pocketed the pen, thanked the man and headed toward the exit. On his way to the elevator, he saw a young woman in a room doing jumping jacks. When her arms went above her head, the shirt she wore exposed her midriff. Steve could see her whole ribcage pushing out of her body, literally inches wider than her waist.
He walked faster, disturbed by the sight. She was much thinner than he. Why wasn't she tied down? Why weren't tubes sticking out of her body? Was it because she was a girl? People are always harder on men. They have to be tough, they have to handle everything. Girls just had to be thin. But that thin? Was that right?
Could he get that thin?
Steve left the hospital posthaste and jogged down the street to a nearby shopping center. He went to a fast food joint, ordered a small strawberry shake and sat down in a rock hard seat. He sucked down the shake, pretending not to notice all the people staring at him. He heard a group of teenaged boys snickering behind him, whispering about the anorexic escapee. He frowned. There was that word again. What was that? He pulled out the hospital pen and grabbed a napkin. He jotted down 'annorecsick' and stuffed it in his pocket. He hoped Adam had a dictionary at home.
One of the boys came up behind him and, still snickering, asked Steve if he had a boyfriend. Steve ignored the immature whelp behind him, slurping his thick, pink drink as if it required all the concentration in the world. The boy behind him tried again, not so nicely, asking what a girl like Steve was doing in a place like this, a restaurant.
Steve slammed down his drink and whipped around, eyes flashing brimstone and fire. He'd had enough bullshit to last a lifetime. He said in a very cold voice that he was having a strawberry milkshake and wondering what the fuck was wrong with women today that they couldn't raise their sons to be a little more concerned with hiding the fact that they were obvious assholes with IQ's lower than their shoe sizes. He pushed a skeletal hand through his hair, exposing a long, thick, wine-colored sideburn, and told him that no he most certainly did not have a boyfriend, but in the unlikely event he decided to get one, it definitely would not be some acne scarred, prepubescent dipshit he met at Jack-in-the-Box. Then he turned back to his shake, slucking down the last drops noisily.
He sat there a little longer, waiting for the hecklers to take their food and leave before heading to the bathroom. He didn't have his pendant, so he grabbed a fresh straw and went to the nearest toilet. He put his free hand on under his shirt and held his belly while forcing the straw up and down his throat. The shake came back effortlessly, bringing up a small portion of the chicken soup as well. He felt the places his belly spasmed and crunched, and tried to duplicate the movement. To his surprise, he found he could force another dribble of shake and soup. He pulled out his pen and napkin and scribbled his new findings, drawing a loose diagram for his notebook.
He went back to the counter and asked one of the girls at the register for a cup of water. Then he took his drink and left in search of a payphone. He found it and realized he had no idea how to get in touch with Adam. He didn't have anybody's number, everyone in the band was unlisted, and even if they weren't, he didn't have anybody's address. He began to panic, wondering if he should have just stayed at the hospital until Adam came to visit -
He didn't visit. Steve had been out of the hospital for less than thirty minutes. The sun would set soon, and there was absolutely no sign of his supposed best friend. But why would he visit, after that awful 'exposé'? Steve left the phone and trudged back toward the hospital in tears.
He sat down on the steps and hugged his knees to his chest. He put his head down and rocked, back and forth, side to side, for a long time. When he finally looked up, night had fallen. He was shivering, though the scrolling marquee at the bank across the street reported a temperature of 68 degrees. A warm night by anyone's standards, but Steve was positively freezing.
He thought about walking home, but he didn't know how to get there, and besides, he was too tired. He sat there, contemplating this latest turn of events and laughed out loud. It was absurd! He'd fainted from cold, was put in a hospital, kept prisoner in said hospital, escaped from hospital, and now on the verge of fainting from cold outside the stupid hospital!
He was about to crawl inside the hospital and ask someone to help him out when a familiar car drove past. Steve watched the car drive to the end of the block, turn into a driveway, circle back around, and park a few yards away. He tried not to be hopeful, as black German imports were all the rage lately, but he was depressed all the same when a small, black haired woman stepped out of the driver's seat.
Not his car.
Steve had been abandoned for good.