Jeremy sighs, tugging on a loose thread hanging from his cardigan.
There’s too many variables, he thinks.
Through the window, he looks out into the front yard, the occasional breeze swaying unmowed and unruly grass.
I can get the mail. I can do that.
His breath is already shaking. All he needs to do is convince himself, right?
On three. I’ll open the door on three, grab the mail, and walk back inside like a normal fucking person.
Jeremy’s fingers move from another snapped thread to the cool metal of the doorknob.
I could trip off the front step. Cracked skull, blood everywhere, concussion, possible death.
He curses to himself, shaking his head in hopes the thought would be flung away.
There could be someone driving around waiting for a homicide victim.
Turning the doorknob, he hears the soft click and slowly pushes it open millimeter my grueling millimeter.
Everyone will probably be able to see me from their windows and the sidewalk, laughing at how I can’t function like a normal human being enough to move forward ten feet into the open air.
The tall boy is basically shaking now. Mostly from anxiety and fear, though the lack of any clothing beyond boxer shorts and half intact cardigan probably isn’t helping. The humid air clings to his glasses, getting foggier by the second.
Still, opening the door as if on autopilot.
The late morning sun makes him have to squint a little, but the door is open enough now for him now to make out the faded red paint of the mailbox. It feels like it’s miles away.
He takes one step; the sudden warmness of the patio startles him. He takes another, just inches from the safety blanket of his house.
Alright. Not too bad. No concussions. I can do this.
His body, doesn't believe any of that shit. Trying to move his feet isn’t working. Mentally fighting to take any steps forward or backward are met with failure and the sensation of quicksand overcoming his toes.And it keeps rising up his legs.
The once pleasant sensation of the concrete now feels like harsh burning on the soles of his feet. Pink, cloudless skies and the distant chipper of birds seem to laugh in his terrified, sweaty face.
Jeremy’s mind is racing now. Fuck, fuck. The concrete is going to burn my skin. Third degree burns will probably keep me from walking for months. Worse, the skin burned off detaches from my feet and I’m gonna fall forward and bash my head on the concrete. Concussion. Bleeding out. Dying miserably. Fuck. Shit.
So, here he is. Frozen, burning, and possibly dying. Lovely.
And now, he sees the girl of his dreams approaching.
Are you fucking kidding me?
Okay, maybe only four dreams since the warm August morning he saw her walking to the bus stop.
Okay, maybe four teen dreams.
Nonetheless, he can make out her figure rounding the block. Jeremy can even notice the slight skip to her step that he’s always seen from his living room every weekday. Seeing her now in the open air speeds up his heart rate even more, if that was even possible. He can feel the redness grow across his cheeks and ears, with heat rivalling the burning of his feet. Her silhouette is growing rapidly, the dark onyx of her hair catching the light and appearing almost golden.
...And about to see him panicking hysterically a foot from his front door.
Why couldn’t he choose to do this on a weekend? Everything, save for his heartbeat, seems to be moving in slow motion for Jeremy.
Three houses away.
Her glimmering smile is almost as bright and crisp as the morning air around her. She seems to be talking to herself. Probably laughing to herself at noticing his pathetic ass, he guesses.
Two houses away.
Wait, she’s wearing earbuds. Mouthing along to whatever song she’s listening too. At least she won’t be able to hear Jeremy’s heart beating out of his chest and shallow breaths.
One house away.
She’s taking one earbud out… huge almond eyes staring down something. The skip in her step is gone, yet her skirt still sways with the wind.
Shit, she’s looking at me!
“Are you okay?” she asks, voice even sweeter than Jeremy had ever imagined it being. Her lips are pursed. The sun still glistens against her, creating a halo around her figure. Jeremy tries to will away the deeper blush overcoming him.
This is NOT how he planned their first conversation to be.
“Eugh- Ugh, I… ack-” he manages to choke out. His body feels like it's on fire.
With that, he regains feeling in his legs, and stumbles back inside, slamming the door after almost tripping on himself.
Tears prick against his eyes as he falls to the floor, glasses tumbling a few feet in front of him. He presses his back against the front door, trying desperately to regain control of his breathing.
Not only did he embarrass himself in front of the girl he’s been watching from the window for years, he had another painful reminder of his fears.
He wouldn’t call himself it, but three doctors, a psychologist, and his own dad all say the same thing:
Agoraphobic . Jeremy throws his hands against his face, rubbing his eyes until they hurt.
Panic attacks in 7th grade turned into panic attacks over being embarrassed in public, which turned into Jeremy’s realization that anywhere outside of the comfort of his home was bad news.
The teen was able to convince his dad to let him do homeschooling online by 8th grade.
And that’s been his life for the last 3 years. Not that he minds. His panic attacks went down from once or twice a week to once or twice a month.
That’s IMPROVEMENT, he reasons to himself and any therapists that ask. So, why go anywhere else? Avoiding what makes you anxious isn’t a problem. It’s logical.
Sometimes, though, like today, he’d give anything to be normal. He slouches, moving his hands to pick at the carpeting at the thought of normal.
As he begins to calm down, he pulls out thread after thread of his navy cardigan, dazed. How it’s still intact is a miracle. From the ground, his eyes glare around the stagnant living room, almost frozen in time. Pictures are few and far between. But there is one of Jeremy, huge nerdy smile and front tooth missing, at a fourth grade science fair on the coffee table. One of him and his mom at fifth grade graduation hangs on the wall, collecting dust over the years.
The thoughts of no popularity, no friends, and no GIRLFRIEND catch up to him, and cause these type of outbursts of trying to leave. Just for a moment.
Just long enough to remember why he stays here.
* * * * *
Post Mailbox-Freakout, Jeremy wanders back to his room, the soft sounds of chirping birds outside.
He was comfortable in his entire house, but he liked his room in particular. Movie and video game posters cover a wall and a half, a big unmade bed against the other half. A window and shelf with way too many knick knacks, books, and action figures take over the third. The fourth, and the one he resides by now, has his prized computer setup, swivel chair, and (usually locked) bedroom door. This was his domain.
He slumps down at his desk, mindlessly ignoring his virtual school work and clicking open Apocolypse of the Damned. It takes a moment for him to fiddle with the PC settings and connect his handheld controller.
He watches the words “Level 9: The Cafetorium” flood the screen with green ooze as the stage begins.
One failed attempt turns into eight failed attempts, and he starts to get into a rhythm.
Right before attempt nineteen, three loud bangs rattle around the room.
Jeremy unintentionally lets out a screech, dropping the controller to the ground with a clatter. Muffled laughter roars from outside his bedroom window.
The only response he gets from the short boy staring through his window is a cheesy grin and a wave. With a sigh, Jeremy regains his composure, sliding his window up to just over the tips of his friend’s dirty blonde hair. The air outside is warm underneath a blue, clear sky, and nearby cars are heard in the distance. A few dragonflies buzz about. Jeremy wonders if one might barrel into the house.
Note to self: Google diseases dragonflies could carry.
“Hey.” Rich says, snapping Jeremy out of his Dragonfly Stupor. His auburn eyes are bright and squinting into Jeremy’s much darker room.
“What are you doing ?” Jeremy asks.
“Uh, coming to hang out? What’th it look like?” His lisp is as prominent as ever, coming through most of his S s.
“You know I have a front door, right?”
Rich only responds with a shrug, and tries to get himself through the window. He successfully falls over into Jeremy’s room on the third try, and the taller can’t help but grin.
“I’m fine!” Rich jumps back up, smoothing his red flannel shirt and khaki shorts.
“Don’t you have school?” Jeremy asks in a pseudo-annoyed voice, raising an eyebrow with a smirk.
“Benefits of online school. I’m ahead enough that I can play hooky.”
Rich flumps onto Jeremy’s bed with a grin, kicking his flip-flops into the air. The latter rolls his eyes and takes a seat at his old desk chair.
“Thoooo… I’m guessing there’th nothing new with you, ath per the norm,” Rich sighs, resting his head in his hands.
“Wrong! I embarrassed myself in front of a cute girl walking to her bus stop!” Jeremy cringes at himself halfway through. It sounded cooler in his head.
Rich starts a dry laugh, but then gives a small gasp.
“Wait, the thop at the end of your block?”
“Uh… I-I guess that’s the one,” Jeremy runs a hand through his dark waves of hair nervously.
“Did the have thort black hair?” Rich gets up from laying on his stomach, now upright.
“Long thkirt and neon backpack?”
“I think I know her!”
“Really?!” Jeremy all but shouts, wincing from his own voice crack. Rich doesn’t seem to notice, though.
“Yeah! From my theatre class! Christine Canigula.”
Jeremy’s eyes light up. “Oh?”
“I think the might be with this guy named Jake, though…”
“Oh…” Jeremy slouches. The two sit in the quiet for a moment, studying the still air and Jeremy’s Star Wars bed sheets.
Rich’s words cut through the air like a knife, almost startling the other.
“How would you even have a chance with her, anyway?” Rich only half teasing, and the fact both of them could tell didn’t make the situation better.
Jeremy groans, and covers his head with his arms on the cluttered desk.
“...Thorry,” Rich whispers, hopping up from the bed to approach his friend. Jeremy can hear the springs of the mattress give, followed by footsteps and the warm press of a palm on his shoulder.
Jeremy still wonders how they’ve gotten this close in the past few months. They initially met after meeting on an Apocalypse of the Damned fanpage, trying to find the same tips for beating level six. And when they found out they both lived in the name New Jersey town, (Jeremy still remembers typing I can’t believe how cool you are with sharing your location with STRANGERS… ) Rich took that as an invitation to knock on his window for the first time last month, after a TON of (what Rich claims to be totally not creepy) sleuthing. Jeremy still isn’t really sure he wants to know how Rich found him.
Not that he doesn’t enjoy actual company now and then. Rich doesn’t like to ask questions about Jeremy being housebound and homeschooled, and Jeremy doesn’t like to give answers. Besides, you don’t find another dork who likes the same obscure video game as you every day.
So, they keep each other company.
The silence starts to become awkward, so Rich continues on his own, changing the subject all together.
“‘Gee, Rich, what’th going on in your life?’” he mocks. Complete with clammy hands and the slouch.
That earns a small chuckle out of Jeremy, drawing him to sit upright again. He tilts his head, pushes his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose, and spins his chair slowly with his feet (despite the chair being on the tallest adjustment, his feet still drag on the floor).
“Gee, Rich,” he says flatly, caving in to a smirk and blush creeping onto his face, “What’s going on in your life?”
“ I’ve got a dealer I’m meeting up with later!” His drops his voice a bit when he says “dealer”, clearly proud of himself.
Jeremy stops his lazy swaying in the chair, eye’s now trained on the other teen’s freckled face.
“A what? I never pinned you as a stoner,”
“Pfft, pleathe, not weed ,” Rich slowly backs away with a chuckle, adjusting his beanie.
“Thome new age technology a friend of mine told me about, he said it’th life changing ,”
“Wait, do you even know what it is?” Jeremy flails his hands a little, trying to make his point.
Rich goes quiet for a second, studying the beige carpeting.
“...Well, heh, define ‘know’,”
“ You don’t know what it even is?! ”
“Okay, you’re making it thound worse than it ith.”
“I really don’t think I am.” Jeremy doesn’t even know the slightest thing about drugs. And even though Rich went to public school, he didn’t know much more.
“You know taking random pills could kill you, right?” Jeremy stands, starting to subconsciously pace around. “Even over-the-counter medicine can kill people. W-What if you’re taking, like, an overdose of Xanax or some type of acid and you f-fucking, die while hallucinating. Or you co-”
“ Jeremy. ”
Jeremy stops dead in his tracks, brows furrowed and worry clearly written all over his face.
“Look,” Rich sighs, biting his lip. “I’ve known this guy for a while. And he thays it works wonders , for popularity and stuff. Makes you cool, and can help you get anything you want. I’m kind of dethperate.” Rich stuffs his hands in his pockets and rocks on his heels for a moment.
“I mean, you get that, right?”
“Ouch,” Jeremy holds a hand to his chest, acting offended. He winces a little though, when the laugh he expects to get is instead silence.
“You know what I mean,”
“Well, you know I’m not gonna go stop you, man,”
That did earn a laugh, to Jeremy’s surprise. Rich smiles, genuinely, and opens his mouth, but is interrupted by the distant sound of a knock.
“That’th my cue! Wish me luck!” With that, Rich awkwardly crawls out the window and falls out the other side with a thud.
“You know my dad won’t care if he sees you!” Jeremy calls after him, but the shorter boy was already across the lawn, waving as he clumsily jogs away with a cheesy grin.
* * * * *
“Hey kiddo.” Mr. Heere half mumbles as he opens the door to Jeremy’s room. Even though he just returned from his day job, he’d already changed into a bathrobe and boxers.
“You can’t even keep your pants on long enough to come check in with me?” Jeremy deadpans, eyes darting between his computer screen and his dad.
“How was your day?” Mr. Heere ignores his son’s question. Jeremy only shrugs. Mr. Heere mirrors him, and gestures to his open window.
“Your, uh… your friend stopped by, I see,”
“Sounds like fun. Uh, what school does he go to?”
Jeremy knows full well where this is going.
“ Dad .”
“...Okay. Good talk,” Mr. Heere closes the door, completing his imaginary “Talk to Son” quota for the day.
* * * * *
That night, Jeremy is still squinting at his computer screen. The digital clock in the corner reads 1:46 AM, not that he minds. These are the nights he loves the most: alone, quiet, still. He can barely make out his reflection in the too-bright computer screen. Rounded glasses perched at the end of a long nose, always about to fall off his face despite his best efforts. His features are angular, with big, steel blue eyes offset by dark bags underneath.
Even if I did have a chance with Christine, she wouldn’t even give me the time of day.
He switches between tabs, clicking from an Apocalypse of the Damned forum to Pornhub, only to click back when he can’t find any good… material. Subconsciously, he hopes maybe the next time he clicks back they’ll be something new he missed before. Hey, being agoraphobic doesn’t keep him from being a normal horny teenager.
Not two minutes pass before he clicks back to Pornhub again with a sigh, scrolling endlessly for something to settle on.
Jeremy eventually caves and clicks on something vaguely interesting, just to get… it over with.
As the video starts up, he puts on his earbuds, setting into the mood.
That’s when three loud bangs erupt from his window.
“AAAAUGH!!” Jeremy shrieks, blood rushing to his face as he jumps up from his chair, removing his hand. In the midst of his panic, he manages to power off the computer, knocking over his keyboard and chair in the process.
Jeremy, eyes glossy with anger and embarrassment, stomps over to the window. He yanks the blinds up while trying to ignore the now uncomfortable situation he has in his pac-man boxers. Thank god his dad is a real heavy sleeper.
“ R-Rich ! What the fuck?! It’s a-almost two in the fucking morning! I was tryi- uh, trying to sleep ! Y-You’ve gotta stop sca…” Jeremy trails off, a small gasp escaping him.
Because the Rich he was expecting to see wasn’t there.
Jeremy can barely make out his “friend’s” figure in the dark night, the only light sources being the unnatural computer brightness and the streetlight in front of his house.
Rich’s beanie is gone, replaced by his unruly hair gelled all spiky. Tugging on the collar of his muscle tee, he speaks fluently and with more purpose than Jeremy had ever heard him before.
“I got you the hookup, too,”
Jeremy, jaw still agape, is too stunned to even respond for a moment. He fights a shiver rising from the cool breeze that flows past his ears.
A raspy laugh comes out of the shorter boy, the sound barely louder than the deafening late-night crickets.
He watches in confusion as Rich, in the cold October night, hold up a small, grey pill that all but sparkles when a car passes by, headlights reflecting off the steel-like material. Rich’s hooded eyes, now uncharacteristically dark and hazy, float between the pill and Jeremy. A smirk grows across his face.
“It’s from Japan.”