Jeremy wakes up, and nothing is wrong.
His limbs feel like they’ve been filled with cement. His ribs hesitate to take breaths too deep, as if it’s trying to tell him doesn’t really deserve that. His covers feel like they’re weighed down with stones, and he can’t move. Or he doesn’t want to. In his head, the rest of his blank dreams taper off, leaving only him behind; curled up on his bed with something inside of him pressing against the corner of his eyes, only managing to come out as tears.
But nothing is wrong.
He’ll just stay in bed for a couple of minutes. Maybe half an hour. Maybe a full hour because half assing things is never good, even if the thing in question is him rotting under his covers, which, if he thinks about it literally, is fucking gross. He figures that makes William Faulkner pretty fucked up for writing A Rose For Emily, but then the author is dead and all that. Hopefully not under the covers. Under the covers where Jeremy realizes belatedly that he’s hungry but then the thought of food has him crying again like a loser. There’s something about the concept that feels too monumental, too overwhelming right now. With nothing else to do, he brings his knees closer to his chest and, in his head, tries to list down foods he remembers exist downstairs that he could maybe stomach eating. During this catalog, he gets lost (with only a single slice of bread and maybe a slice of cheese, separately, not together, making the list), and meanders to the mental image he has of the fridge. The stupid alphabet fridge magnets stuck on the door, the digimon stickers he and Michael had stuck to the side when they were seven, and the note under this magnet shaped like a banana. The one from his dad. He’s on a business trip and he loves Jeremy and he hopes Jeremy doesn’t eat takeout the entire time and tries to at least cook something. Unless Jeremy can make something that just involves bread and a slice of cheese (separately, not together), he’s going to die here in his bed under the covers. Well, not really, but it sure does feel like it. Jeremy should write something. It’ll be fitting. The author is dead and all that. The author has a numb arm. The author, slowly, so, so slowly as to not shatter like the fragile fabric of nothing-is-wrong, turns from one side to the other. The author tries to ignore how that single action felt like war. The author looks to his bedside clock.
He’s been in bed for an hour and a half.
Better just make it two.
For all that he’s stewing in this, it’s not like Jeremy wants to have these days where he wakes up and the world past his mattress is a world that’s too large and too much. These days where thinking about putting the bread and the cheese together feels like it’ll send him crashing down. These days where he hugs his knees to his chest, closer closer closer, as if maybe, that might help him be smaller, small enough that the sludge in his head has no choice but to come pouring out, so that finally, he can just be left alone. He doesn’t want this but it happens anyway. Jeremy counts himself lucky when he gets a reason. Bullying gets shitty, failed a test, Mom leaves. All terrible, but at least he knew why. More often than not, there isn’t a reason at all. Whatever this is creeps up on him and nothing is wrong and yet here he is, trapped in his own head, unmoving. Still.
Today is going to pass him by and there’s nothing he’ll be able to do about it.
Jeremy wonders if he should just let all the days pass him by.
Maybe that’s what this is.
Jeremy’s been in bed for two hours and seven minutes.
Better just make it thr—
Downstairs, the front door opens and slams closed, rattling the house and Jeremy’s ribs. It’s a recklessness he can recognize and he tries to curl up into himself tighter. He tries to stop moving. Dinosaur logic. If he stays still, he can’t be seen, and if he can’t be seen he won’t have to deal with the fact that he forgot Michael was coming over today and how he can’t do anything at all, he can’t do anything at—
Jeremy’s door opens.
“Wassuhhh—” Michael trails off. Jeremy has his eyes shut tight. The world won’t disappear but logic isn’t his strong suit right now. He feels like a child hoping that magic will turn his blanket into a portal to another dimension where everything is fine and where his best friend won’t have to see him like this.
The magic doesn’t happen. Jeremy stays firmly in this dimension where he hears the door click closed.
“Hey,” Michael says. His voice is nothing like how he slams doors closed, filled with too much energy that comes bounding off of him. It’s soft. It’s somewhere in front of him. Jeremy takes a deep breath and opens his eyes to see Michael sitting on the floor, next to his bed, looking at Jeremy with a smile on his face. “Mornin’.”
“M—” Words are so hard and it feels like warfare but he can’t be so pathetic as to leave them both to the silence. “Morning.”
“It’s actually almost noon,” Michael says, not unkindly, but Jeremy feels cold shame pool in his gut anyway. “But that’s okay! It is! What’s a teenager without their whack sleeping habits, yeah? We can’t just leave hibernation to the bears, right?”
“I wasn’t sleeping.”
“That’s okay too.”
“I don’t—I don’t think it is.”
“That’s—” Michael’s smile stops reaching his eyes, worry filling his gaze instead. Shame is cold and sharp and it cuts Jeremy up from the inside so bad he clutches his blanket tighter around himself, afraid that maybe, Michael might see it. Whatever Michael was going to say, he abandons it and starts something else. “Jeremy,” he says. “What can I do to help?”
“You don’t have to do anything,” he tells Michael, and the rest comes tumbling out. “I don’t really think I can do much today so you can just leave and I’ll try to be okay tomorrow, I’ll make it up to you tomorrow, I can buy you your slushie, I can—Tomorrow. Just not today, not now, because I’m—I—”
“Nothing is wrong.”
“Do you want me to leave?” He asks.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you want me to stay?”
“If you want to.”
“Jeremy,” Michael puts his hand on the bed, close to Jeremy’s. Choices, choices, choices. One door and another. Michael shouldn’t have to do this, but here he is. Unmoving. Still. And maybe today will wait, just for this moment. He says, “What do you want?”
The world is pressing up against him from the inside and pressing down on him from the outside. He’s still trying to figure out if Michael is a part of all that or if he’s the only thing keeping Jeremy crumbling under the pressure. What does Jeremy want?
He wants to get out of bed and be a functioning human being. He wants to never move ever again and just lie here thinking about Faulkner and if maybe everybody deals with this and Jeremy’s just weak. He wants to stand up and scream until his voice peters out into hoarseness just to show that he can. He wants to go back to sleep and never wake up. He wants to wake up. He wants to want things that make sense. He wants to not be a mess of contradictions, heavy and sharp and too much before he can even start the day. He wants to make it three hours. He wants to be okay.
Jeremy doesn’t know how to say any of this without unraveling at the seams right in front of Michael, so he says, “Bread.”
Michael blinks. “What?”
“And—cheese.” The world is still awful but Michael is starting to smile.
“I can make you a grilled cheese if you want.”
“No, they uh. Not together,” Jeremy explains.
Michael snaps then points a finger gun at him. “French toast. With a slice of cheese on the side because you’re a weirdo.”
“You’re a weirdo.”
“I’m the weirdo who’s gonna make you some fucking incredible french toast, dude.” He pokes Jeremy in the nose. “I just have to tell you though that my french toast tastes best when you’re out of bed.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Jeremy says, ignoring the chill that runs down his spine. It’s just so heavy. "I’m not sure—”
“It’s okay if you can’t,” Michael says quickly. “It really, really is. But like, I met the french toast god in a back alley while stoned and french toast god said that french toast tastes better if you eat it downstairs on a plate that also has your ridiculous slice of cheese.”
It’s just so— “What does french toast god look like?”
“Ina Garten but hovering a foot above the ground,” Michael deadpans and Jeremy can’t help it. He laughs.
“What do you say?” He asks Jeremy.
The author is dead but Jeremy’s never written any stories. The bread and cheese will be kept separate so maybe Jeremy can keep it together. Michael is here and Jeremy is not fun right now but Michael is going to stay. The world is heavy and this feels like war but—
Jeremy pushes himself up. His body creaks in protest. Gravity has a grudge against him and he can feel everything telling him to stay down. Jeremy swings his legs over the edge of his bed. Tears pool at his eyes and it’s so stupid but he blinks them away.
Then he looks to Michael.
Michael who’s holding his hand out.
Against everything in his head, Jeremy takes his hand. He grips Michael tight as he stands.
“Toast time yo,” Michael grins, easy and happy and kind.
“Toast time,” Jeremy repeats, quiet. He still isn’t fine. He still isn’t okay. But he’s made it out of bed and he’s going to watch Michael make french toast. Maybe he’ll even help, if he can find it in himself. He doesn’t know what will happen after, but he’s done this much on a day he didn’t think he could do anything at all.
One thing at a time.
They walk out of Jeremy’s room and Jeremy doesn’t look back.