She doesn’t say anything. She just sits there with her hand on his back, letting him cry, for almost twenty minutes. He feels sick with guilt for wasting her time. He isn’t worth it; she should go. But he can’t bring himself to tell her that.
“Isn’t this the guys’ bathroom?” he asks eventually, when he’s brought himself back under control. Or as close as he ever gets.
She laughs a little, and it seems to break away some of the weight in his chest.
She’s walking fast when she leaves the building, head down, obviously making an effort to radiate I-don’t-want-to-be-bothered. Maybe it’d be best to drop it.
But she glances up and sees him while he’s debating whether to leave. Stops. Pulls her headphones down around her neck. “Hey.”
He’s going to fuck this up. He’s already fucked this up; he just doesn’t know how yet. “Hi.”
“Are you okay?”
He manages a smile. “Better than I was last time.” It’s humiliating, knowing that she saw him like that. But he guesses it’s not much more embarrassing than getting into a fight in front of her. “Thank you.”
She jerks her head back towards the building. “You changed courses?”
He shakes his head. “I just wanted to say thanks.”
“Oh.” She’s wary.
“I’m not trying to pick you up.” He sees her relax a little at that. “I’m just saying, you helped me out. It meant something.”
“It’s okay.” She looks down at his bandaged knuckles, casualties of putting his hand through the mirror. He must have punched it a hell of a lot; they were picking glass out of his hands for an hour at the hospital. He barely even remembers it. “You know you can tell me what happened, right?”
I fought myself. I literally fought myself. There was another me. I felt his breath on my face. And then you opened the door, and it was just me, and he was gone. I don’t know what’s happening to me.
“Are you asking out of sympathy or curiosity?” he asks.
She looks caught out, embarrassed. “Is it okay if I say both?”
“It’s okay,” he says. “I don’t know if I’m ready to tell you.”
She shrugs. “Well, I’ll still be here next week.”
They end up in a café. He doesn’t remember which of them suggested it. He hopes it was her. Is he just cornering her into talking to him?
“What are they talking about in the sessions?” he asks.
She raises her eyebrows. “Are you trying to steal some therapy?”
“Maybe,” he says. “I don’t know. Probably. Do you think they’re helping?”
She sets her coffee cup down, looks out of the window at the sunlit street. He can’t look out of windows. All he can see is his reflection.
“I don’t feel any different,” she says.
“It’s only been three weeks, right?”
“Yeah. And we need to make ‘a real effort to change’.” She shakes her head. “I’m not good at making an effort. I just want them to replace me with someone else.”
He asks her for her number.
She’ll say no. She’ll think he’s hitting on her, she’ll think he’s some creepy guy who’s into women half his age. Or maybe she won’t think that, but she’ll still say no. He’s a fuck-up; why would anyone want to give him their contact details?
“Sure.” She holds out her hand for his phone.
He still doesn’t know her name. She must have shared it at that first session, but he wasn’t really paying much attention to what anyone else was saying back then. By the time he’d realised he didn’t know it, it was too late. You can’t ask someone for their name the fifth time you meet them.
Maybe this is a chance to learn it at last, if she’s going to put herself into his phone.
When she hands the phone back, though, he sees she’s just keyed the number in: no name. He looks up, and she’s smirking at him, and it hits him: she knows exactly what she’s doing. She knows he doesn’t know what to call her. She’s trying to corner him into admitting it.
He won’t be beaten. He enters her name as Therapist. Close enough.
She cranes her neck to see what he’s written. “You don’t pay me for it.”
“You don’t have to talk to me.” Please don’t stop talking to me.
She shrugs. “You could just ask, you know.”
He shuts off his phone screen.
It hasn’t been happening so often, not in the last few weeks. He’d thought maybe he was getting better.
The other him rips the cord out of his bathrobe, and for a moment he can’t think, doesn’t know what comes next. Holds his bathrobe shut with one hand, tries to shield his neck with the other.
The other him slams him to the floor. Drags him across the carpet. Ties him to the door handle by his ankles, using the bathrobe cord.
Fuck. Fuck. It could be worse. Shit, he was supposed to be getting better.
Lying on the floor, half-doubled up, he tries to catch his breath. The other him doesn’t give him a chance. A slap in the face, another. Pressure over his lungs. It takes him a moment to make sense of what’s happening.
“She’s afraid of you,” the other him growls into his face. Kneeling on his chest. It’s getting hard to breathe. “Don’t you get that? The first time she met you, you attacked someone in front of her and then smashed up a bathroom. She’s not talking to you because she wants to. She’s scared of what you’ll do if she doesn’t.”
His head hits the floor so hard his vision bursts black.
When he opens his eyes, it’s light outside the windows and his feet are still tied to the door. His neck aches. His shoulders ache.
He tries to double up, reach his ankles, untie himself. He must be flexible enough to do it; he must have managed to tie himself up in the first place, after all. But a night sleeping contorted on the floor has left his joints too stiff.
Great. Excellent. Maybe he’ll starve. One day the police are going to kick down his door and conclude he died in a self-bondage accident. Technically speaking, they might not be wrong.
He lies on his side for a moment, thinking.
He might be able to get his phone. It’s not too far away. If he drags himself across the carpet to the coffee table, as far as the cord will let him go...
If he reaches up...
It still has charge. He weighs it in his hand for a moment, thinks about calling the emergency services. About some stranger showing up, looking at him with pity or amusement.
He calls her instead.
She seems pretty confused when he tells her he’s trapped in his house. Well, of course she would be. But she says she’ll come over and do what she can. He gives her the address.
“Are you going to be able to let me in?” she asks.
He hadn’t thought of that. He looks around. Glass shards on the other side of the room. “I broke a window.”
A pause. “You want me to climb through your window?”
“You’re going to get me arrested, you know that?”
“I’ll explain it. I just—” It’s always true, he knows it’s true, but it’s always so hard to say it. “I need help.”
“Who the hell did this to you?” she asks. “Do I want to know why?”
He winces. “I think I did it to myself.”
She’s quiet for a moment. “How much did you take?”
He hadn’t taken anything. That’s what really scares him. Maybe it’s too late for getting clean to help. Maybe he’s already too broken to be fixed.
“The problem isn’t drugs,” he says. “The problem’s me.”
She snorts. Moves over to his feet, starts untying him. “Yeah, I can relate to that.”
There’s a cut in the side of her jeans, going all the way through to the skin underneath. “You’re bleeding.”
“I just climbed through a broken window,” she reminds him.
And then his feet are free, he can drop his legs down to the floor again. It’s painful but glorious.
“How bad is it?” he asks.
She looks down at the cut in her leg. “It’s not deep. I’ll be fine.”
He almost offers to clean and bandage it for her. Might be too intimate. “There’s a medical kit in the bathroom.”
He guesses he should cook something. He skips lunch most days, but he can’t exactly leave her to starve. There’s not a lot in the house, but he manages to throw something together: pasta, olive oil, pepper, cheese. It’s not elaborate or interesting, but it’s more than he’d have managed on his own.
“Is this what happened in the bathroom?” she asks, over the food.
He looks at her, waiting for her to elaborate.
“You fuck yourself up,” she says. “And then... what, you don’t remember it?”
He takes a forkful of pasta. Something to delay having to answer.
“I don’t remember it right,” he says, once he’s swallowed. “In the moment, it’s like... there’s another me there. And we always get into a fight, because...” He shrugs. “Well, he’s me. He’s an asshole.”
She’s staring at him.
“Look, if you want to run out of here, I’ll understand,” he says.
She shakes her head. “No, it’s just – we don’t fight, like, physically, but—” She sits up in her chair. She’s paying attention, intently, desperately. “Like you’re two people. Like you can see this other you.”
“Shit,” she breathes out. “I thought it was just me.”
“There’s another you?” He’s dreaming.
“Yeah.” She scrubs her hands over her face, lets out a long breath. “Yeah.”
They’re both quiet for a moment.
Somehow, even in the mess of his life, the mess of his head, he finds himself trying not to smile. “What’s her name?”