Do it, Shane thought, limping into the dark living room and collapsing onto the sofa. And this time … get it right.
In the silence, all he heard was the ticking of the clock hanging above the fireplace. His stomach gurgled and, suddenly, it felt like the room was spinning. He thrust himself forward until his head was between his knees and took in several deep breaths, pushing them out forcefully through his nose. When he calmed down, he could barely hear the whistle of his breath. Just the tick-tock of the clock that had him remembering the moment that had set him on the path to madness.
Tick. Shane was nine years old again, wearing his Spider-Man pyjamas and standing at the top of the staircase with his hands over his ears to block out the yelling. Tock. The light over the staircase came on and, seeing his mother sprint towards him, his hands fell to his sides. Tick. She swept him up in her arms and carried him downstairs and out of the house. Tock. She set him down on the front porch, cupped his face in her hands and then leaned forward to kiss his forehead. Tick. “Go next door to Mrs. Dodd’s,” she’d said, tears streaming down her face. “Have her call the police. And don’t come back. Go!” Tock. Shane took off running in his bare feet. Tick. Before he made it to the end of the walk, he heard a popping sound, followed by a high-pitched shriek. Tock. He tripped and fell to the ground. Tick. He stood and, when he heard two more pops, bolted towards his neighbour’s house.
The doorbell sounded. Shane, his heart thumping, didn’t move. A year ago, on a night like this, he’d decided to lay his burdens down. He’d just swallowed ten of his Tegretol pills when his phone rang, Damien Miller’s name on the call display. Damien, a scruffy Robert Downey Jr. lookalike, came into his life when he needed an anchor and became his hope, his joy, his everything. At that moment, Shane felt a presence, something — maybe that still, small voice — that made him answer the call. He tried to speak, but no words came as he cried. Through his sobs he heard Damien’s reassuring voice, “I’m on my way.”
The repeated pounding on the door brought Shane back to the present. He rose slowly and made his way into the foyer.
“I’ve been trying to reach you all evening,” Damien said as he stepped into the house. He closed the door, then reached for the light switch to his left and flipped it on. His eyes went wide. “Jesus! You look like shit.”
“Thanks.” Shane slinked back into the living room and collapsed onto the sofa.
Damien, following behind, turned on a lamp before sitting down next to Shane. “Did you have that dream again?”
“It’s not a dream,” Shane said. “I lived it, remember?” Even now he could still smell the hint of sage as Mrs. Dodd held him as they watched his parents’ bodies, each draped in a white cloth, being rolled away on gurneys.
Damian reached for Shane’s hand. “I know. I just meant —”
“I know what you meant.” Shane, locking his gaze onto those cinnamon-brown eyes that somehow made him smile through the pain, pulled his hand away. “I’m tired, Damien.”
Damien wrapped his arm around Shane’s shoulders and drew him in close. They sat in silence for a moment, then he kissed the top of Shane’s shaved head. “You’re taking your meds, right?”
Shane squirmed out of the hold and rubbed his eyes. “I ran out.”
“When?” Damien asked, almost shouting. “I’m sorry. But you can’t just go off your meds and not expect —”
“You don’t know what it’s like.” Shane rose and crossed the room, standing in front of the fireplace with his back to Damien. “My head hurts all the time. I can’t eat. I don’t feel like being with you even when I want to.” He spun around, tears pooling in his eyes. “I can’t fucking concentrate. I haven’t worked in almost a month. What the hell am I still doing here?”
Damien bounced off the sofa and rushed to Shane, taking him into his arms again. “You’re still here because I need you.”
Shane twisted away and returned to the sofa. “You don’t need a pathetic —”
“You’re not pathetic.” Damien moved to the sturdy wooden coffee table, sat down on its edge and took Shane’s hands in his. “Tell me how I can help.”
“Let me go,” Shane pleaded. “For Christ’s sake, let me go. Fuck, I’m going to end up just like my father anyway.”
At fifteen, Shane was diagnosed with bipolar depression. That was when his grandmother, who’d taken him in after his parents’ deaths, told him how his father was schizophrenic. “Your mother loved your father very much,” his grandmother had said with a hint of guilt, or shame, or maybe both. “They were soul mates. That’s why she stayed. But your father … he tried to self-medicate. He didn’t want her help, or anybody else’s. And I really don’t think that it could have ended differently.”
Maybe that was what hurt the most … that his mother had given her life for his.
“You’re not your father,” Damien said, matter-of-fact, and glanced at his watch. “The pharmacy’s closed by now. I’m crashing here tonight. Hey, it’s not up for debate. We’ll go get your meds first thing in the morning.”
“Why?” Shane blinked rapidly, but the tears still flowed.
Damien shrugged. “Why, what?”
“Why do you stay?”
“You haven’t figured that out yet?” Damien, smiling, squeezed Shane’s hands. “Because I love you. That’s the only why I need.”