Chapter 17 - Denial Can Be Breathtaking

The next week was quiet. Steve stayed in his room, watching television, marveling at the speed in which that crackpot televised tabloid rescinded their asinine statements about Steve and his friend. It was positively amazing what a beautiful voice could convince a record company to do.

He refused most visits. He was still convinced the rest of the band was out to get him, and he wanted no part of it. He preferred to spend his time stretching and jogging, though he couldn't keep up a routine for more than ten minutes with loosing his breath. He also avoided eating with Adam, feeling that his slower pace couldn't handle processing any solid food. The weight gain would be atrocious, to say the least.

Adam began taking him to group meetings, to catch up on missed work. Steve was tired all the time, though he tried his damnedest to hide it. He strutted around the place, always on his feet, constantly hyper. The band wanted to tell him to take it easy, they could see him leaning against the walls trying to catch his breath, trying to recoup, but they feared a tongue lashing. Nobody told Steve what was on their minds, that they were putting out ads for a new singer. Not even Adam.

Rehearsals began for their next video shoot, the fake concert. Management had called on the band's fan club to provide the audience, eliminating the need to pay ridiculously high union wages for b-rated actors. The video's director would have a hard enough time hiding the band's acting (in)abilities.

Steve tried to keep up with the loudspeakers at first. He was constantly exhausted, unable to gather the air necessary to be heard over the piped music. Adam tried to tell him to just pretend, but Steve wouldn't listen. Everyday they had to stop to let the lead singer rest, losing time and money. Management was not amused.

One day after another botched rehearsal, the band's manager approached Steve fearfully. He asked Steve to follow him to a more private room. When they were alone, he issued the band's - and the record company's - ultimatum. Gain some weight or find a new band.

Steve blinked. So there it was. They'd done it. And they'd gotten the record company on their side. As if any of them had the right to dictate to Stephen Morantes what he could or could not do with his body. Steve asked if they'd lined up an actor to finish the shoot. The manager shook his head, said they were giving Steve a month to see a doctor about his anorexia. If he didn't they were going to have to part.

Steve frowned. There was that bloody word again. He didn't say anything, not wanting to commit himself either way. The manager sighed and repeated the one-month term, then left Steve alone. No one figured Steve would take them up on the offer. They just hoped they could shock him into getting some help before it was too late.

Steve was silent on the way home. Adam asked Steve if there was something on his mind, but Steve wouldn't answer. He knew perfectly well that Adam knew they were going to do that to him - he had been nervous all morning, and was entirely too solicitous on the way home. Steve didn't want to know about it.

They got home and Steve went straight to his scale, angry that anyone would want to force him to do something against his will, after everything he'd been through. He thought about the awful days and nights with his mother, he thought about the trip to the hospital, the awful burn in his throat when ever he did indulge in something to eat, the way they'd ripped him from his comfortable life with his father and were about to toss him aside now that they were famous. On his voice.

He stepped up to the scale. He smiled, pleased that he was so strong, that he'd avoided the temptation in the kitchen that day.

He was only 73 pounds.

Steve told Adam he was going to the library, that he'd be back in a couple of hours. Adam protested, asked to let him drive, but Steve just sailed out the door and started walking the mile trek.

Half a block later, Steve was on a bench, out of breath.

He managed to flag a taxi and smiled sheepishly when he made his request. The driver didn't care - more money for him. Steve asked him if he could wait about an hour or so. The driver turned off his engine and left the meter running. Steve thanked him and dashed into the building.

He hadn't been in a library since he was a kid. He wandered around, rubbing his tired chest, hopelessly lost. After a while he found the reference desk. He leaned forward and asked the gentleman behind the desk if they had dictionaries. The librarian pointed one out and Steve took it to a table. He opened it up to the A's, looking for annorecsiah. When he couldn't find it, he went back to the desk and asked for a different dictionary. Steve wound up going through five dictionaries before the librarian finally asked what Steve was looking up.

Steve felt his face grow warm and wondered if it was red. He leaned even closer and whispered anorexia. The librarian didn't flinch, didn't nod knowingly, didn't react at all. He just asked if Steve wanted the spelling, a definition, or a book on the subject. Steve shrugged and said the first two would do fine. The librarian wrote the word out on a slip of paper and asked Steve if he would like to wait for the librarian to look it up. Steve smiled and shook his head, grateful that the man at the desk wasn't making any rude comments. He turned and went back to the first dictionary, unaware that the librarian was whispering a little prayer for him.

anorexia : n. (med) extreme loss of appetite

Well what the hell did that have to do with him? Steve hadn't lost his appetite. Far from it! In fact, that was the whole damn problem. If he didn't have an appetite, he wouldn't have needed to go on a diet in the first place.

anorectic : adj. causing loss of appetite

That wasn't what they said. They said something with an S, or well, an X. So this wasn't about him. Besides, how could he cause a loss of appetite? It didn't make sense.

anorexia nervosa : n. aversion-to-food syndrome

He didn't hate food. He just couldn't afford to eat too much. So that didn't apply either. He closed the dictionary with a sigh, feeling like he'd wasted his time. Well, maybe not a total waste. At least he knew what the insult was supposed to mean.

He checked the other dictionaries, but they told him even less. He went back to the first dictionary and jotted down the entry on the back of his paper slip, then headed home.

When he got back, Adam tried to offer him a glass of strawberry nectar, but Steve pushed him aside, thinking only of his notebook. He put the paper slip in the envelope and tried to ignore the pain in his belly. Finally, he gave in and found Adam's half-gallon carton of nectar. He downed the whole thing in three swallows. Then he went to the kitchen sink and, remembering the notes on his napkin, squeezed his belly and spit out every last drop of bile-tainted strawberry juice.

Steve didn't try to keep up appearances after that day. His chest hurt. He was tired, dammit. He needed to rest. He didn't care what they thought. They were cutting him out anyway. Let them wait. He still insisted on singing along with the record, because he thought it looked more realistic. The director agreed and overrode the manager's attempts to speed the process along. After all, what did he care? In a month's time the kid would be gone anyway. Cut corners then.

One particularly sunshiny day started off very well for everyone involved. The fans were happy because the director decided it would be cool to film them closer to the stage, maybe even touching the band. The band was happy because the director also thought it would be cool to focus on Steve or the band as separate entities, meaning less time sitting around waiting for Steve to catch his breath. Steve was happy because anything that made the band happy made Adam happy, and that made his routine that much easier. As far as he was concerned, it started off one of the best days of the year.

It turned out to be the worst day of his life.

Steve stepped up to the mic, smiling at the kids in the front. A number of them were staring at him strangely, but he'd grown accustomed to such looks. They smiled back, though. They didn't care if his pelvis was sticking out of his pants at a weird angle. He was Steve Morantes, and he smiled at them. That was good enough for them.

The director cued the music, and playback began. Steve began to sing along with his previously recorded vocals, moving to the beat, feeling the rhythm of the music. He was enjoying himself. Then that nagging feeling started in his throat. The one that made him feel constricted. He ignored it, figuring it would go away. After another line, it did, and Steve completed the first verse with no problem. The director told him to take a break and started blocking for the rest of the band.

Steve slowly walked over to a chair out of the camera's sight and lowered himself into it, rubbing his sore chest. He felt a little funny, but he'd just taped an entire verse nonstop. That was an accomplishment, and he decided that it was just the excitement. He sat out the next hour of filming, watching the band lip-synch to his own layered vocals. He shook his head and shifted in his seat. Amateurs.

They called Steve back to the front, explaining they were going to film the chorus a couple of times, then they were free for the day. Steve nodded and got into position, still trying to shake that weird feeling. The music started and Steve began to move. He swayed in time with the beat, moving to dance with the guitarists. Everyone thought Steve was enjoying himself.

He wasn't. He was uncomfortable. Something was wrong. He couldn't tell what it was, but he knew something was very wrong with him. He felt... closed. He tried to ignore it, to be a trooper, but he couldn't after a while. He couldn't sing. His mouth was too dry.

Steve stopped singing along and stood quite still in the middle of filming. He could hear various members of management moaning when the director yelled cut and asked Steve what was wrong. Somebody in the audience said they thought he looked a little blue. The bassist said he always looked sad. Someone else in the audience refuted the bass player's response, that it was Steve's color, he was looking sick. The band started to shift a little, wondering if there was something really wrong this time. The manager tried to call Steve's bluff and demand that he get over whatever was bothering him, but Steve wasn't listening. He was too busy trying to make the world stop spinning. He looked over his shoulder at Adam and started to tell him he felt sick, but the lights went out in his mind.

Chapter 16
Chapter 18

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