When the sun first starts to rise, Sonny’s awake. He slips from his makeshift bed on Peter’s couch to grab his notebook and curl up in the nook by the window. As the fog drifts and settles on the city, he stares down at everything going on with a distant look on his face. In front of him, the paper runs smooth and creamy beneath his absent-minded fingertips. The words never come right away, but once they start to flow, they’ll bleed and dip and curl and weave together a thousand thoughts into thin spun thread of sentences. He starts to write. By the time that Peter wakes up, stumbling into the living room with bedhead and sleep in the corner of his eyes, pages have fluttered by so quickly and yet so slowly at the same time.
Sonny doesn’t look up, but he shakes his head and presses the nib of his ninety-nine cent store pen harder into the pages of the fifth spiral he’s gone through in a month. If his lack of response makes Peter feel anything, he doesn’t make it clear. Without having to turn around, Sonny knows that now he’s behind him, starting the coffee pot. It clatters to life with a monstrous growl, followed by the splashing of water being poured in and the sound of the fridge popping open for Peter to get the french vanilla creamer he likes so much. Some things never change.
Then comes the slow drag of a knife through something soft before it grinds against the cutting board. Its sound alone makes Sonny’s shoulders bunch beneath the tee shirt that doesn’t fit him. Some dark grey v-neck in XL, one that hugs Peter’s body comfortably but hands loosely around Sonny’s skinny arms, narrow shoulders, and sharp ribs. He hasn’t been eating since he got there, not that he was really eating before. Whenever Peter is home in time for a meal, he tries to coax Sonny into eating something, but the most success he’s had is getting Sonny to eat an apple- he handed to him before he left, and when he came back ten minutes later to pick up his forgotten wallet Sonny had the core in his hand, watching the window.
A few minutes later, Peter sets a little black bowl of unevenly sliced fruit by Sonny’s waist. He stares down at the bright colors and the slight sheen of what he thinks are various types of melons. Cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew. His mouth starts to water, but he doesn’t say anything or reach for it. Being stared at, watched, it makes his skin crawl. Even if he wanted to eat, he couldn’t. Still, he’s been trying hard to make progress, and when Peter offers his hand, Sonny takes it and gives it a weak squeeze. It’s their way of communicating, because Sonny’s voice has a funny way of not working sometimes, especially early in the morning or on jumpier days. Over the past month, they’ve gotten better at figuring this out, and Sonny wishes he knew how to express how thankful he is that Peter’s taking care of him through all of this.
He goes back to writing between long stretches of staring out the window as the apartment fills with the sounds of Peter getting ready for work. Water beating against the walls of the shower. Hangers clicking together. A soft exclamation when Peter stubs his toe on the sharp edge of his dresser. Clinking keys and such. All of it goes in its usual pattern until Peter comes back to the living room to leave. What he does, Sonny isn’t sure, but it keeps him on weird hours, gives him paperwork he has to do at the dining room table with a beer beside him. The bottles don’t accumulate. Exhaustion claims him, but he always says goodnight and tells Sonny to sleep well.
“I’ll lock the door, should be home at around five,” Peter says. He always tells Sonny when he’ll be back, and if he’s late, he’ll text him on the old phone that he gave him. It doesn’t have data, but it has an app that lets him text on wifi without a phone number. “As always, you know where everything is if you uh, if you get hungry.”
Before he goes, he holds out his hand for Sonny to squeeze again, and then he’s gone.
Left alone, Sonny focuses back on his writing. His filled notebooks sit in a neat stack in the little cubby against the wall, where his other things stay: his driver’s license, a small stuffed bear, and a worn basket of the pens that Peter bought for him. Pathetic, sure, but he’s glad to have some things that are just his. When he’s sure that Peter isn’t coming back for something he forgot, he manages to bring himself to eat half of the bowl. The rest he protects with cling wrap and shelves in the fridge for later, if he’s hungry after Peter goes to bed. He’s always up later, usually not even trying to go to sleep until after midnight. Surviving on little to no sleep is a skill he mastered a long time ago, and the habit is a hard one to break. If he stops writing, all the thoughts and memories overwhelm him until he has to stop. Sit. Clutch his head in his hands. Try not to let Peter hear him sobbing. The last thing he wants is to become more trouble than he’s worth and get himself tossed out on the streets like a dog.
His words smear a little on the wet ink because his hand moves too quickly for the colors to sink into the pages entirely. Black and blue mar the side of his hand, which escapes his notice until late at night, Peter’s eyes bite down on it as he passes by. Words, so many, perfect but not entirely right, some written in such haste that they fall off the lines on the college-ruled paper. Everything he’s had to go through, all captured in a loopy mess of not quite cursive, makes his chest feel a little lighter as he transfers the memories with the tip of the pen.
Time flies like this, because next thing Sonny knows, the lock of the door rattles. He jumps, curling in on himself and drawing his notebook closer to himself until he realizes that it’s just Peter. Just Peter who shared a dorm room with him when they were in law school together before Sonny had to drop out. Just Peter who always made sure Sonny had dinner at night. Just Peter who would walk him to and from the bus stop on dark nights to make sure that he’s alright. Just Peter who now asks him if he’s alright.
He nods silently.
“I brought takeout. I know that this used to be your favorite. You know, if you’re hungry.”
White plastic coated cardboard held out like an olive branch, a peace offering. Sonny takes it, but he doesn’t know if he can eat it. There’s so much in the container, and it’s probably the richest thing that Sonny’s had since he was eating greasy diner pizza with Peter after final exams. Three years. Four. Five or maybe six. He didn’t have a calendar to keep track of time when his world slowly narrowed to a single house in the middle of nowhere with green shutters on the old school windows.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Peter says, “but eventually I’d like to know how you’ve been. Where you’ve been. I’m worried about you, Sonny.”
Worried. To be worried over is such a weird feeling, one that it seems like millennium since Sonny’s been able to experience. He looks up at Peter and blinks slowly, not knowing how to make his voice work. It does still exist, he knows because he hums to himself when he’s home alone, but talking is still too hard. The memories of burning hands on his face are still too fresh for that.