Every man, woman, child, cat and dog on the block turned in unison at the high-pitched scream.
The last time Steve had been cleansed, he swore never to set foot in the ocean again. Swimming pools still gave him the heebie-jeebies.
His mother was clucking and cooing at him, stroking his head in that way of hers, telling him it would be alright, she'd banish the demon for good this time. She told him she knew that had to be it, the way he went after the water hose. But he couldn't wash it away alone. He needed help. That's what mothers are for.
She didn't even try to move him until he was too worn out to scream, much less fight. She went back to her purse and finally found what she was looking for - a copy of Steve's car keys. Then she opened the door and dragged his limp body to the backseat. She pulled off her cardigan and laid it over his lap, covering what she could. She locked him in the car and disappeared for a moment. Then she was in the driver's seat, and they were on the highway. Soon after that, Steve passed out from sheer exhaustion.
When he awoke, he was in his room. The one in his house. Down the hall from his exercise machines and his videotape and his empty living room and his acid-stained bathroom. He sat up slowly, wondering if it was all a dream. Maybe he'd never really met Adam. Maybe it was just a weird nightmare.
Then he saw the paper tag still around his wrist.
He really was about to be cleansed.
He looked down at himself. Still naked. Naturally. It made her job easier. He wondered vaguely if she'd found any religious freaks to assist her, or if she was going to keep it in the family. He hoped she would underestimate his strength. Even if she could overpower him alone, he had a better chance than if she had help.
He got out of bed and went to the window, prepared to hop out. Locked. Swearing, he went to the door and cracked it open.
His mother was in a chair next to the door. She smiled at him, asked him how he was feeling. She held up a Thermos, offered him some chicken soup. Steve eased the door closed, and laughed softly. Fucking unbelievable.
He went back to the window and tried to open it again. When it wouldn't budge he looked at it more carefully. It had been sealed shut, some kind of caulking. Damn. He looked around for something to break the glass with, but anything that was small enough to be picked up was either bolted in place or just plain removed. Even the decorative knobs on his bed frame were gone.
Bed. Sheets. He could just wrap one around his fist and punch through the window. Piece of cake. He took the top sheet and wrapped it around him like a makeshift toga. Then he took the fitted sheet and wrapped a corner of it around his hand. He approached the window with some trepidation, hoping he wasn't just making more trouble for himself, and reared back.
Something caught his wrapped hand. He looked behind him. His mother. Duh. Like she wouldn't just come in the room when he didn't come back out right away. She was holding a Bible and a piece of white silk to her chest with one hand and holding onto Steve's sheet with the other. She was smiling that same beatific smile. She told him not to worry, she wouldn't let the beast take him back to that palace of sin and hatred.
Steve wondered if there was room for him back at the hospital. Surely they didn't believe in beasts and demons and palaces of hatred and sin and whatever the hell else was going on her pretty little head. He told her she needed to calm down, that they could discuss this like rational -
Steve was on the floor before he realized she'd hit him. She was screaming in Portuguese and Latin, something about letting her son go and addressing saved, god-fearing creatures. He put his arms over his head and tried to shield himself from the stinging blows of her leather-bound Bible. That only enraged her, and she took a piece of the sheet still on his hand and wrapped it around his neck. She pulled tight and backed out of the room, dragging him along, still beating him with the holy book.
Steve choked and tried to get his hand between the sheet and his throat, but she had the cloth pulled so tight it was all he could do to stay conscious. When he thought he really would pass out, she stopped in front of the bathroom door and dropped the sheet, letting his head bang on the floor. She stepped over him and went in the bathroom. He could hear the sound of running water, and was pretty sure he was going to die this time around.
She came back with a giant knife. She cut the sheets to shreds and yanked Steve to his feet. The sudden movement made him dizzy, and he nearly fell again. She didn't try to catch him, but shoved him towards the tub instead. He grabbed her, afraid of breaking his bones. She sliced at his arms and hands, trying to make him let go. He cried and pleaded, begging her to stop, promising to be a good boy. She pushed him to the floor and held the knife over his neck. She told him to get in the tub, or she'd cut him out of her precious child.
Trembling violently, Steve turned to the nearly full bathtub and pulled himself to the edge. He sat there, wondering what awful torment awaited him next. He was about to ask his mother if she would consider at least calling a priest when she shoved him in the water.
The water was fucking freezing! She dunked his head under and held him with one hand, while the other spread the white silk over the water, covering his head. He struggled and kicked, both for air and to keep from freezing to death. She let him up momentarily, demanding he name all the saints in their parish in alphabetical order, starting at the end.
What the fuck?!?
Before he realized he'd said it out loud, Steve was back under the water, kicking and splashing for his life. He scratched at her face, hoping to blind her or hurt her nose or her lip or anything that would make her let go long enough for him to break surface. Instead, she brought him up with one hand around his throat, throttling him, screaming that she would not let the demon take both her children.
Steve tried to pry her hand from his neck, but she had the knife in her other hand and was slashing at his slippery, frostbitten fingers. He cried for mercy, begged her to just call a priest, wait for help, find a nun, anything, just let him out of the water. She screamed even louder about her lost daughter and how the vile demon couldn't have them both. Steve gave up, knowing he was a dead man. He would join the sister he never met, and maybe then he'd get a little peace.
His hands dropped into the frosty water and he let his head loll back. The sobs that racked his body ceased, though warm tears still rolled down his cheeks. He whispered his forgiveness to his sweet mama before he closed his eyes. Then he felt the water against the back of his head, felt it rush up around his ears, cover his face, run in his nose, take him down. He fought the urge to hold his breath, made the decision to take a breath, to end the pain -
He was pulled up by a pair of strong hands. Startled, Steve opened his eyes. The dark haired girl was yanking him over the edge of the tub, pulling him out of the freezing, watery grave. Steve collapsed on top of her, amazed at her ability to be in the right places at the right times. She grabbed a nearby rug and wrapped Steve in it, trying to warm his shivering body. She eased him to a sitting position and shielded him from the fight that ensued just inches away - Adam and Mama.
After a few moments, the struggle ceased. Steve's mother sat in a disheveled heap, crying hysterically about her baby and his lost soul. Adam just stood over her, waiting for her to try something else. The girl was in the medicine cabinet, taking out a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and some bandages. She poured the peroxide over the bleeding slashes, whispering comforting words every time Steve flinched. After a while, the bleeding stopped and the girl bandaged him like a pro. She signaled Adam, who pulled Steve's mother out of the bathroom, and the girl helped Steve to his feet and out the door.
Adam was behind them a moment later, draping a bathrobe over Steve as they left the house. Steve looked at the ground as they went to Adam's car, ignoring the stares of his neighbors. He had to smile, however, when the girl asked what the fuck everybody was staring at.
He got in the backseat and laid down. The girl slid in next to him and positioned him so his head was on her lap. Adam made sure they were both comfortable before he pulled away from the madhouse. Driving calmly to his own place, he told Steve he was determined to keep things as sane and normal as possible. Adam didn't even flinch when the squad cars zoomed past - he would make damn sure that Steve would never have to see the crazed woman they were arresting ever again.
When they arrived, Adam and the girl helped Steve into the house. They laid him on the couch and began to discuss earnestly the pros and cons of taking him to a doctor. She thought he might need blood, he didn't want to send him back so soon. They went on, forgetting that the subject of their discussion was in the room, clueless about his disappearance.
Steve picked his way to his room, not wanting to hear the ridiculous argument. He sat down heavily on his bed, catching his breath. He felt unusually weak. He figured it was the blood loss, decided to take it easy for the week. He saw his scale and notebook laid out, remembered what started this mess in the first place.
He picked up the drained pitcher and sighed. There was no need for the water now. Anything he'd eaten the day before was definitely dropping globs of fat on his slender form. He put the pitcher away and stepped on the scale. He expected a disappointment. Instead, he was elated at the reading.
He heaved a sigh of relief and went back to his bed. He scribbled down the events of the past few days, starting with the ipecac incident. After getting down the facts and figures, lessons and thoughts on his quest for the perfect body, Steve went over to the pair of pants he was wearing when he left the hospital. He found his napkin, with his 'evacuation' diagram and that odd word he wanted to check on, and stuck it in the envelope he kept in his notebook just for such scraps. Then he hobbled back to the living room.
Adam and the woman were staring at him wildly. They pounced on him, asking where he'd gone, was he feeling alright, did he need anything, why didn't he say he wanted something, were they disturbing him, what was wrong. Steve looked perplexed. he told them he was fine, thanks, and went back to the sofa. Adam shook his head and asked if anyone was hungry. A beat of silence, then he and the woman began laughing wildly. They heard a horn honk outside, and the girl checked out the window. She came back, kissed Adam, stroked Steve's head and told him to be careful, then kissed him. Then she was gone again.