The second week of her stay was a bit smoother. He began cooking for her in earnest, each meal becoming more elaborate than the last. He took over the shopping list, in and out of the stores everyday for the very freshest produce. Everything he put on the table was the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the very top of the heap. All for his mama.
He never touched the stuff.
Less than two weeks before he had to head back to the studio for rehearsals and video shoots, he received a telegram from his manager. It stated that the rhythm guitarist had been put out of the band for an increasingly debilitating drug habit. They'd found a new guitarist, but they needed to rehearse together. The band wanted Steve to come out of hiding and meet the new kid on the block before making any public appearances.
The idea that the band was changing its line-up without consulting him was disturbing. He felt the first twinges of panic rising in his throat, and found himself clinging to his mother's side for the next hour, trying to keep himself grounded. When he showed no signs of letting up, his mother left the house, claming she needed to take care of 'female things', though at her age, Steve couldn't figure out what the hell that could be. It took him a few minutes to realize she was just trying to get away from him.
He'd been abandoned. Again.
Panic took over, shutting his mind down, sending his body out on a primal mission.
He opened a cabinet and pulled out a jar of creamy peanut butter. He opened it up, stuffed his hand in the jar and sucked the peanut butter off his fingers. He went to the refrigerator, still sucking down peanut butter in record time. He found the ready made potato salad he'd bought two days before - a four pound tub. He pulled it out of the fridge, ripped the top off, and dug his free hand in it, the other hand still stuffing peanut butter in his mouth. He shoveled potato salad in his mouth between gulps of peanut butter, eyes still scanning the room for other easy to eat goodies.
When the peanut butter jar went dry, he took the tub of - half eaten! - potato salad along and found the biscuits he'd made from scratch the day before. There were two dozen of them. He used those as utensils to scoop up the rapidly dwindling potato salad. When the biscuits and potato salad were gone, he ran back to the refrigerator, hungrier than ever.
He found a one pound tub of chocolate pudding. He tipped the tub to his mouth and sucked the pudding down faster than he thought possible. Still, he hungered. He opened the freezer and found three glorious quarts of ice cream. He ate those more slowly, not wanting to develop brain freeze. He ate the chocolate ice cream alone, found some Oreo cookies to go with the butter pecan, and some saltines to go with the strawberry.
He discovered a food-service sized can of chili in one of the bottom cabinets. He opened that up and shoveled that in too, without bothering to heat it up. He opened three regular cans of corn and sucked that down too. He felt mildly confused when the hunger didn't let up at that point, but he kept on rummaging for food. He ate six large apples, drank a two liter bottle of cola, ate an economy sized bag of potato chips, a two pound block of cheddar cheese, and a whole apple pie. He pulled out the brand-new canister of oatmeal and polished that off in record time.
He was tossing empty packages aside as he plowed through whatever was in them, devouring everything he got his hands on. The year of starvation had finally caught up with him, and the carnage in the kitchen spoke volumes. He ate the unfrosted three layer cake he'd baked for his mother, then grabbed the bowl of unfinished frosting from the countertop and gulped that down. He ripped into the boxed cake mixes, pouring the contents into the frosting bowl, then pouring milk over that to make the powder easier to eat. He shoveled the resulting paste in his mouth, alternating with giant gulps of plain milk. He grabbed some boxes of powdered sugar and tried the same trick with it, downing three pounds of the stuff, and eradicating both the gallon jugs of milk in the house.
He was vaguely aware of mild discomfort in his stomach, but he was too busy stuffing himself full of fresh baked banana muffins to care. He found a quart sized Ziploc bag full of chocolate chip cookie dough and jammed that in his mouth. The pain in his stomach got a little worse, but he ignored it, preferring to guzzle a gallon of orange juice. But when he got halfway through the family sized foil pan of macaroni and cheese, a razor sharp stab under his ribcage stopped him in his tracks.
He paused, waiting for the pain to subside, but it got worse. A lot worse. In a matter of seconds, he went from a nagging ache in his belly to a vicious piercing pain ripping though his gut. He tried to take a deep breath, but couldn't, feeling like something was in the way of his diaphragm. He looked down at himself and saw this... thing sticking out of his gaunt, bone-thin body.
He struggled to his feet and stumbled to the bathroom. He fell to his knees and crawled over to the toilet. Pulling himself up, he managed to get the lid off and put his face somewhere over the bowl right before the pressure in his swollen gut blew.
The first wave only made it in the bowl because gravity dragged it down off the underside of the toilet's lid. He adjusted himself somewhat and the next explosion made it to the water, splashing furiously. He didn't care. He put his face completely in the bowl, not bothering to keep his long hair out of the water and threw up so hard he wouldn't have been surprised to see his shoes in the bowl.
When he finished heaving, he stared at the former contents of his stomach, amazed that so much food managed to get down his throat before his perfectly-trained body kicked in and reversed the situation. He flushed the toilet and glanced at the clock.
His mother had only been gone fifteen minutes.
He had to get out of the house. He grabbed the telegram and went outside, walking to the nearest payphone. He called his manager and asked when he was supposed to meet this new guitarist. They agreed to meet in a couple of hours at the keyboardist's house, where there was plenty of room for rehearsals. He hung up and started walking to the keyboardist's house, a thirty minute drive. He needed some punishment after his 'lunch'.
When Steve arrived, the front door was wide open, and he could hear the joyous sounds of an impromptu party coming from the back of the house. He walked in and headed for the music room, toward the happy sounds. When he got there, the joviality stopped almost immediately.
He hadn't seen the band since the end of the tour, at least fourteen pounds ago. They'd thought he was too thin then, and told him so. Now they were staring at him, and it was obvious they didn't like what they were seeing. He ignored the stares and greeted them as if nothing were wrong. Everyone shifted a bit, then returned to their conversations, stealing occasional glances at the lead singer. He sighed and made his way over to the new guy.
He was sitting in the corner of the room, laughing at jokes he didn't understand, pretending to have a good time with these strange people. He brushed his long, blonde hair out of his eyes with a long, elegant finger and shifted a little in his seat. He was obviously uncomfortable. Steve felt bad for him.
Steve plopped down in a chair next to the new guy and waited for an opening. He didn't have to wait long. The drummer and lead guitarist stopped talking and introduced Steve with more than a bit of apprehension. The new guy didn't flinch at the singer's appearance, just said hello like there was nothing wrong with a grown man that weighed less than your average eight-year old. The idea made Steve smile.
The new guy smiled back.
Steve chatted with him for a minute, discovered he was a songwriter, an excellent pool player and single. They discussed music and billiards for a bit, then Steve decided that was enough socializing. He stood abruptly and went to the microphone stand, indicating the end of the party and the beginning of rehearsal. The band gathered around, settling into position, and they started to play.
Steve might have looked too sick to do anything, but he could still knock everybody's socks off, and proceeded to do so. The band cheered him on, and for the first time since he started dieting, he felt like he was part of the fun, like he was invited to the party. The rehearsal was the best they'd had in months. He was ready to work again.
Afterwards, the new guy offered to walk Steve to his car. Steve admitted he'd walked, and the new guy promptly ushered the singer in the direction of his own Euro import. He opened the passenger door, and indicated the seat for Steve. When Steve was settled in the car, the new guy ran around to the driver's side and hopped in, asking if they should stop anywhere before he took Steve home.
Steve was mildly amused. He'd never been brownnosed before, and thought it was silly. He gave the new guy directions and closed his eyes, trusting the guy to say something if he needed more info. With minimal fuss, he had Steve home in just under half an hour. Steve hopped out and thanked the guy, then went back into the house, in a fine mood.
His mood didn't last long. He entered the kitchen, where his mother was sitting in a chair in the middle of the mess he'd left behind. She looked mad. She stood up and went over to the broom closet and grabbed the broom. She walked over to her son and asked him what happened. When he didn't answer, she whacked him with the broom, bruising the tender skin stretching over his ribcage. She asked again and he cried, telling her he got hungry. She dropped the broom and told him he had ten minutes to get the kitchen in order, or she would make sure his hunger never got out of control again. She went to the oven and turned on the timer. Then she went to the exercise room and turned on the television.
Steve scrambled around, trying to beat the clock, even though he was tired and needed to sit for a minute. A memory popped forth, unbidden, of trying to clear the kitchen table before the egg timer ran out. It never failed, he couldn't beat it, and something awful would happen. He didn't remember what, but that was fine with him. It wouldn't have let him concentrate.
He put the last dish in the cabinet when the timer went off. He was relieved that he wouldn't have to find out about the fragmented memory. He turned to his mother who had just come back into the room. When he asked her if he could go sit down, she shook her head. She said she knew he would never really change, and if she had a lick of sense, she would just let it go, but she couldn't. He had to learn that she meant what she said.
He tried to back away, but was already up against the sink. He managed to ask her what she meant. She pointed to the chair she'd been in when he got home. He exclaimed his disbelief that she would hold her chair against him. She reiterated that she told him to get the kitchen in order. If that meant cleaning up after her, so be it.
She put on a pair of oven mitts and opened the oven door. She pulled out a pair of metal tongs. They were starting to glow red. She walked slowly toward Steve, who was frozen in place with fear. At the last possible moment, he bolted away from his mother and ran out to the garage. He hopped in his car, fished under the seat for his extra set of keys, and drove away.
After about an hour he pulled over to the side of the road. He remembered very clearly what happened if he didn't beat the timer now. It was always something different, something awful, something that involved one of her kitchen utensils. The last time it happened he ran away from home and stayed away for ten long, lonely years.
He was tired and hungry after a hard day at school, and wanted nothing more than to grab a sandwich and laze out in front of the TV. He'd grabbed what looked like some roast beef, piled it high the way only a seventeen year old boy can and sat down to watch some cartoons. A few minutes later his mother came in the living room screaming about the roast beef that was for her bridge club, and he was always eating and never bothered to find out how the food got in the house and he'd better get his ass in the kitchen and figure out something to do for the bridge club in fifteen minutes, or he was gonna give that fucking roast beef back.
He dragged himself back to the kitchen, but he didn't know what the heck she expected him to do in fifteen minutes. He told her so when the time was up and he didn't have anything. She grabbed a long, wooden spoon, put on two aprons, and pushed him into a chair. She straddled him, pinning him to the chair. She grabbed the hair on the top of his head and yanked back, opening his mouth. Then she stuck the spoon handle in his mouth, all the way to the back, poking around his throat. He gagged and fought, but she wrapped her hand in his hair and pulled harder, opening his mouth completely. She poked and prodded, then pulled him forward when he visibly retched. She yanked him toward the floor as he vomited the sandwich, kicking him in the belly and calling him a pig.
When he stopped retching, she made him go to the deli and buy some more roast beef, without cleaning himself up. He did, and when he gave her the meat and change, she sent him to wash up. She made a thick sandwich for him, putting all his favorite things on it. She wrapped it up in wax paper and cut it just like the sandwiches at the same deli. She put it on a platter and piled potato chips and pickled spears around it. She filled a giant glass with grape Kool-Aid and put it on a TV tray his seat by in front of the television. She left a note of thanks for picking up her last minute item and left for her bridge meeting.
He left for Los Angeles the next morning.
He sat at the side of the road, trying to push the memory back down to where ever it came from. That never really happened. He just made it up to scare himself. Besides, why would emptying his overfull belly be scary? He laughed and pulled back out into traffic, ready to go home.
There was a note on the refrigerator, thanking him for cleaning the kitchen so nicely.