The more you can see of the ocean the more beautiful it becomes. For example, just a cup of the ocean wouldn't be very aesthetically pleasing, murky, polluted and ultimately just like a conventional glass of water. Just catching glimpse of the ocean from between houses is nice enough, but incomparable to the overwhelming wave of emotions that wash over you at the beach. And then, a photograph of the entire Earth taken from space, swarming, teeming with ocean. Mostly ocean. 70% ocean. There's so much ocean and all of it’s beautiful.
Rodney had never really cared about the ocean. It was always there, at the end of the road, by the market, sometimes he could hear it at night, but that was just he way things had always been. He'd never felt inclined to explore, go to the beach, see the ocean in all its glory. Adventures weren't his thing.
But Kate loved the ocean. She couldn't believe that in just a five minute walk she could be at the beach, a place she couldn't even take a car journey to from her previous home without having to leave the state. She gushed about the soothing sound of the waves and the warm sand and she even liked when there was a storm and the sea spilled out on to the promenade. There was something about how Kate loved the ocean that made Rodney love it too.
It was dark now, of course, and Rodney was perched on the promenade railing, watching Kate in the glowing lights of the city. She was trying to get as close to the sea as possible without actually touching it. She was good at that, he thought, but from a distance he couldn't tell. Apparently adventures were Kate's thing. Well, normal life was Kate's thing, but that seemed like an adventure to Rodney.
He needed to go soon. Need to leave for work. But Kate was so far away, across the beach, the only way he could tell her that would be to yell. Rodney barely spoke above a whisper. Didn't speak at all, if he could help it. And certainly didn't shout in a public place, where people would turn to look at him, judging him, eyes running over his body, minds whirring as they did what only came naturally to human beings-
“Hey, you need to get to work.” Kate smiled at him. Her face looked fuzzy in the dim light.
“Mm.” Rodney pretended to look surprised, like he hadn't been keeping check of the time.
Hood pulled up and shoulder against the wall, Rodney followed Kate to the cinema. He knew the city better than her, knew where he was going better, but Kate knew how to walk so that it looked like she knew where she was going, which is why he followed her. She turned around when she talked to him, making sure he, and not the street, received her words.
“There are so many good films on, you have to sneak in at the back and watch some of them,” Kate laughed.
Rodney didn't reply.
“Haven't you ever done that? When you were a kid? Snuck in to a cinema?” Kate usually didn't talk much, but when the person she was trying to have a conversation with was as incommunicable as a brick wall she had to make up for it. “I did sometimes, only when I was like eight.
“You should watch Tangled, you have such a cute singing voice!” She grinned at Rodney's mortified face. “It's ok, I wont tell anyone you can sing. Don't have anyone to tell. I just wanted you to know you're talented, is all.”
“No,” Rodney said softly, but the word was lost in the space between them.
Kate walked boldly down the street, crossing street lamps and walking through the light of shop windows, while Rodney slunk through the shadows. The darkness wasn't comforting, just concealing, but that was a comfort in itself. He wished no one ever had to look at him, and he never had to look at himself, and then maybe things would be a little better. He hated what he did and what it did to him and how everyone else reacted afterwards. It would be better if he could just disappear.
“Rodney.” A hand on his arm. Kate was pulling him backwards. “You work here.”
“Oh.” He looked up at the cinema, its dim lights almost blinding now.
“I'll see you later, yeah?” She squeezed his arm gently, as means of a hug. No one was ever allowed to touch that much of his body at once, not even Kate.
Her fingers lingered on his jacket, like she was loath to leave him there, but in the end she smiled and walked away. Rodney watched her go, nervously glancing between Kate and the floor. Behind the glass work mates taunted him, laughing and making rude gestures. He hunched his shoulders and pushed open the door.
As much as Rodney felt inferior walking the streets beside Kate he felt a whole lot worse without her. Every person who happened to catch his eye was immediately labelled a threat; it wasn't uncommon to take a beating on the way home. Neon lights of fast food services made his heart hammer as he tried to avert his gaze to the floor. He felt sick.
He always felt sick, like that was the constant and inescapable state of his body. Sometimes it was a mental kind of sickness, during which his head felt foggy and his thoughts tended to centre around death and the crippling anxiety that human contact brought. Other times he felt physically sick, an inebriating feeling brought on by eating anything. Or nothing. Or sometimes just thinking about food.
Rodney pulled his headphones up around his ears, a barrier from the rest of the world, and tried to become invisible. He wasn't the kind of guy who was good in a fight; adrenaline never seem to kick in and he found himself scatter-brained and panicky. By the time he'd collected his thoughts it was too late to hit back, he was usually semi-conscious on the floor. The problem was that he looked like the kind of guy who was good in a fight, and people saw that as a challenge.
Turning left, Rodney quickened his pace as he approached their apartment. Their apartment. It was as much Kate's as it was his now, possibly even more so, and he liked it that way. Kate's blankets on the sofa. Kate's food in the fridge. Kate's plants on the window sill. His things were still there, of course, but rather than old headphones and hoodies and wires sprawling out over the apartment and asserting dominance they were all tided away in their appropriate places. He had let Kate keep his bedroom, but she certainly deserved it.
It wasn't unusual for the stairs to the apartment complex to be crowded with rebellious youth at best, or gangs and drug circles at worst. There was no lift, of course there wasn't a lift, so Rodney picked his way carefully up the stairs. The concrete was hard and relentless, the stench of urine imbedded in the walls. Fear gripped his heart as he rounded the corner, his breaths quick and sharp. Or maybe he was just unfit. Or maybe it was some combination of the two; he knew that whatever was lurking around the corner could certainly overpower him.
He hurried to the door and unlocked it, slamming it behind him.
“Hallway anxiety?” Kate asked.
“Y-yeah,” Rodney stuttered, immediately wishing he hadn't spoken at all.
“Don't worry, we’re safe.” Kate was sat on the kitchen table, reading a book. Rodney liked perching on top of things that weren't meant to be sat on; it made him feel inconspicuous. But he couldn't bring himself to sit beside Kate today, so sat on a chair.
“I made chicken salad,” Kate told him, “and we can have sandwiches if you like.”
“I want a toaster waffle.” Rodney put his hand flat on the table. Focused on the rough grains beneath his fingers. Focused on remembering to breath. Trying to feel like a real person. He felt sick.
“You can have one tomorrow.” Kate was touching his arm, he could see her touching his arm, but he couldn't feel a thing. His senses were all so numb, but he could feel each of his organs moving and convulsing inside him. It made him nauseous.
“I-I feel sick.” Rodney stood up and move to his sofa bed. He could feel Kate's eye burning in to his back, full of fear and worry. Now, as usual, she'd think she'd done something wrong when really she hadn't. He was just sick. A freak. Unable to express to anyone how he actually felt.
“Goodnight,” Kate said eventually. She sounded so unsure, afraid to leave him. She probably worried he'd do something stupid. He probably would.
Kate understood him like no one else ever had, but she still didn't get in completely. She was hurt and afraid and sensitive, but on the inside. Everyone else saw her as beautiful and confident. Which she was, of course she was, but there was more to her than that.
Rodney looked as much a shipwreck as he felt. He was scruffy, pale, overweight. His interactions were stunted; he couldn't get through one sentence without stuttering or tripping over his words. People looked at him and assumed he was crazy, and they were right.
He wanted to help Kate.
He wanted to help himself.
He felt useless.
That's all Rodney felt when he woke up, all-consuming, mind-blurring, rib-crushing anxiety. He felt like a cartoon, shivering with fear, only it was an illusion of a shiver, a shiver of the brain. That sounded like something worth panicking about.
Cocooned in blankets, Rodney didn't want to unfurl and step in to the cold, but a voice at the back of his head urged him. Get up.
He flipped his pillow. It was cool and calming against his face. Get up!
He snuggled in to the blankets. They smelled of Kate's perfume and for a moment it was grounding but- GET UP!
Outside was awash with the dark blue of dawn, but sunrise was still some time away. He watched the empty street, delaying the inevitable, but there was only so much you could do in a studio apartment. He walked a couple of laps and got bored. He opened the fridge. It was cool and bright, numbing his face and startling his eyes. Almost enough to make him close it again. Almost.
There was no potentially binge-worthy food in the fridge, Kate made sure of that for the both of their sakes, but he knew he'd be anxious and panicky until he ate something. In the freezer, buried amongst frozen green beans and chicken and bread, was his sacred toaster waffles, but he couldn't have those. First of all, he wanted something right now, however, more importantly, Kate also deserved some toaster waffles and if he started to eat them he'd eat them all.
He took out a cucumber, sat under the table, and started to eat it. It wasn't a huge comfort, but he'd always found cucumbers to taste calming, cool on his tongue. Ever so often he'd try to haul himself back to reality, but that only brought in to sharp focus how much of a disappointment he was, so he quickly disassociated again.
A click. Door opening. Rodney's eyes widened and his heart hammer, like he was waking up from a nightmare. In his hands was clasped a stub of cucumber and the pulpy substance filled his mouth. He swallowed it, but he didn't want to. It sat like a rock in his stomach.
Kate, pale and half asleep and pyjama clad, crawled under the table beside him. "Hey." Her voice was ghostly quite. "You ok?" She put a hand in his thigh and he was grateful to find he could feel it there, warm but unsteady.
"I'm sorry I ate your cucumber," was all Rodney could say. It looked disgusting now, the chewed up stump he'd dropped on to his lap. He felt disgusting.
"Don't worry. I'm sorry you felt you had to." Kate sighed and let her hair fall in front of her face. "I feel so mean. I want to help both of us, but I just feel horrible and unhelpful."
Rodney thought he should comfort her, physically, but he didn't know how. "I don't, I don't umm, I don't think you're those things. I'm really glad you're here."
"I'm glad I'm here too. Thank you." Kate thanked him at least five times each day. It was unnecessary, they were close friends by now and desperately in need of each other, but it made Rodney feel appreciated and that was kind of nice. There was no thanks in cleaning cinemas.
Neither of them moved. Kate looked exhausted, refusing to go back to bed. She was a good friend and, unlike Rodney, a useful one. She knew all he needed right now was some company.
Rodney had never minded being alone. From a young age he'd learned to keep his own company, and from an even younger one he'd learnt his own company was better than his parents'. He liked one player video games and not having to share his chips and he much preferred silence to overwhelming noise. Alone was a peaceful time to recharge and explore his interests.
What Rodney despised was being lonely.
Lonely was terrifying. Anxiety inducing. Lonely was having no choice but to be alone all the time. It was dying, and having every single inch of the world carrying on as if you hadn't.
Having Kate around meant that Rodney didn't get to spend much time alone, but also that he never had to be lonely. It was a perfect compromise.
"I'm going to a self defence class tonight." Kate looked right at him as she spoke. Most people didn't bother, he tried to avoid eye contact, but Kate always looked at him and smiled. "I didn't want to tell you, in case you panicked about it all week, but I'd kind of like you to come. I know you don't need any help defending others, you're pretty good at that, but I think we could both learn to stand our ground in a fight."
How could he say no? How could he say no when she'd stay up all night while he was feeling sick? When she arranged her shifts at work so she could be home with him as much as possible? When she played video games she hated, ate food she could hardly stomach, and tolerated near constant darkness every time his depression felt the need for it? How could he say no, when the best he'd done for her so far was hold her hair back while she threw up and panicked?
"Y-yeah, yeah, of course I'll come," he said.
Kate's eye lit up. "Great!"
She took his hand then and just held it in the stillness, the two of them nestled under the table. Rodney thought that maybe they wouldn't both fit under the table if Kate wasn't to small, or maybe even more people could fit under the table if he wasn't a human beanbag. Then he realised he was wondering how many people could fit under their kitchen table, at three am, while a girl he loved like a most treasured family member looked eager to talk about self defence. He pushed away the slightly weird intrusive thoughts he tended to have, about space and shape, and focused on Kate.
"Some umm, uh, what kind of umm, what uh, what type of self defence is, is it?" He managed to force out eventually. This wasn't a strong subject of his.
Kate didn't seem to mind; she blossomed with his interest. "I think it comes from Shotokan karate..."