Chapter 1: A Beginning
Phillip Carlyle is only eight years old when he first experiences the feeling of ice touching his heart. Phillip is smaller than the other boys his age, quieter, more inclined to read books than climb trees and wrestle like his peers. But he's a happy child. He is sure his mother is the most amazing mother in the world. He is convinced his father is the most respected man in the world. And, since Phillip would rather let his mind wander into fantasy tales, he doesn’t get scolded by his parents for ruining his clothes with mud or tears. Maybe a light reprimand from his mother for the wrinkles he creates by sitting in narrow places for hours a day to continue the tales of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, “Cinderella”, “Tom Thumbs” –or any book he can read, really. Phillip had been a quick learner in that area, a fact that had made his mother and father proud. To a certain extent.
“Fairy tales are for little girls, Phillip.” seems to be one of Henry Carlyle’s favorite sayings as of late. Phillip is always puzzled at that statement, his bright blue eyes blinking in confusion. He admires his father, wants to be just like him when he grows up. But Phillip doesn’t understand why he’s being told this with such a contemptuous tone. He finds those fairy tales awe inspiring, filling his mind with colors and fantasies, a relief to his lessons on stature and social customs. But at least his mother, Catherine Carlyle, smiles sweetly when Phillip tells her he wants to "learn how to dance like Cinderella and Prince Charming do in the story." His mother tells him he can start learning in a couple of years, so he can become a proper gentleman at the galas. Phillip cannot wait.
One evening, Phillip’s parents take him to see a ballet recital at the School of American Ballet. One of his father’s associate’s daughter is performing. It’s Phillip’s first time attending a dance recital, all well-dressed, grinning broadly – Scold your features, Phillip – and in absolute awe of the recital. Ballet is flawless, graceful and fluid. Breathtaking. Back home in bed, he tells his mother he wants to learn ballet. His mother, perhaps also inspired by tonight’s recital and recalling her youth, arranges for her son to fulfill his wish, convincing her husband with the argument that Phillip’s physician did recommend more physical exercise for his spine. Carlyle Sr. relents with a huff.
“Men should learn formal dancing, not this floozy for women. But no matter, it will be good for your stubborn posture, Phillip, if anything. I hear the Vanderbilts and the Shermans have enrolled their daughters in Monsieur Anton’s classes this summer too. I’ll allow it, for the time being, perhaps it will give you an advantage for your formal lessons to come. We’ll see about September. But boy, you will not embarrass me, is that understood?”
Phillip is all too happy to nod and begin learning.
His first recital at the end of summer is thrilling. He doesn’t see the odd looks from the audience, too focused on the performance. At the end, as the parents clap enthusiastically for their children, Phillip searches for his mother in the crowd. He finds her smiling broadly, wiping a tear from her eye with her initialed silk handkerchief. Phillip’s heart soars at the pride in her expression. His father is talking with another man, politely clapping along. Phillip grins nonetheless, all the more so when Monsieur Anton compliments him on his performance during the reception. He cannot wait for the next recital.
“Hey Carlyle, heard you started ballet this summer. You know that’s what girls do, right?” Benjamin Astor, one of Phillip's classmates, says with a jeer, making Harrison Vanderbilt snort.
It’s Phillip’s first day of his fourth year in elementary school. His first few years had been quiet, uneventful. He had made friends, not close but still, he had enjoyed their companionship and vice-versa. Phillip, sitting comfortably against a large tree in the school’s recreation area with one of his books propped up by his legs, looks up, startled. He blinks at the two boys towering over him, at their words.
“You like being a girl, Carlyle?” Harrison teases snidely, “My sister says you dance just like one.”
Phillip frowns in confusion.
“I enjoy dancing.” he states quietly but with certainty. “It’s convivial– hey! ” Phillip quickly scrambles up, looking anxiously at his book, now held loosely in Benjamin’s hand. “Hand me back my book, please.” he demands. Always be polite, Phillip. Authoritarian, but polite, his father's voice echoes in his head. But Benjamin makes no move to do so, looking at the cover with a sneer.
“ Cinderella? ” he guffaws. “You’re such a pansy, Carlyle!”
Phillip doesn’t know what that word means, but he’s heard his father describe a colleague of his with it. It had not sounded positive then, nor does it now.
“I am not. I just like to read.” Phillip retorts calmly, despite his heart beginning to beat faster. “Now please, would you hand me my book?”
The two older boys look at each other with matching expressions of mischief, then back at Phillip. Benjamin extends his arm, holding the book in front of the younger boy.
“Sure. Take it.”
Phillip offers a small smile, and reaches for it. But Benjamin pulls it up just as Phillip’s fingers brush the cover, making the blue eyed boy frown. The young Vanderbilt and Astor smile with all their teeth.
“What’s the problem, Carlyle?” Harrison mocks loudly, bringing the other students’ attention to them. “Too short?”
Phillip’s throat constricts, breath catching. His straight posture starts to crumble. Why are they doing this?
“Give it back.” His voice trembles slightly. He reaches for it anew, but once again Benjamin pulls it up and out of reach. Phillip’s stomach churns, all too aware of the amused gazes of his school peers. It makes him nervous. Small. Helpless. He doesn't like this feeling at all.
“Aw, is the little pansy boy going to cry?” Benjamin sing songs. “ Pansy boy! Pansy boy! ”
To Phillip’s mounting distress, the others around them begin to sing along. In a desperate attempt, he stands on his toes quickly to try grabbing his beloved book once more, and instantly feels a rough shove on his back. He loses balance and falls to the ground. Laughter erupts all around him.
He opens his eyes, only for his vision to appear blurry. His knee hurts. He wants his book back and he wants to go home. He wants to see his mother. He wants the other students to stop laughing at him. Why are they mocking him? Aren't they friends?
Phillip pushes himself to his knees, whimpering as his left one throbs.
“ Pansy boy! Pansy boy!” they continue chanting in unison, laughing gleefully at Phillip’s anguish.
He can feel his eyes burning, struggling to keep the tears at bay. He’s not a pansy! He just likes to dance and read!
“You want your book, pansy boy ?” Benjamin asks innocently. Phillip lifts his head slowly, looking at his book. “Have it.”
Phillip's breath hitches as his Cinderella tale is ripped in half at the middle, swallowing thickly as the pieces are dropped in front of him. He stares down at them silently, slumping. When the first tears slide down his reddened cheeks, he is rewarded by another round of laughter echoing loudly in his ears. And from then, the tears don’t seem to stop, the first sob stuck halfway in his throat, creating a choked sound. He brings his hands to his face, trying to hide himself. He doesn’t dare stand up, doesn’t even think he can. He begins sobbing uncontrollably, much to his peers’ entertainment, and to his shame. His heart is beating wildly against his ribcage, making it hard for Phillip to breathe between sobs.
His savior comes in the sound of the bell calling the students back to class. The circle of children disperses with parting giggles, leaving Phillip mercifully alone. He doesn’t know how to calm down, but he knows he needs to. He vaguely hears one of the teachers calling for him to come back inside. He tries to stand, his legs wobbly, his breaths becoming hiccups as he bites his tongue. He startles when his arm is gripped in a strong hand, pulling him up and forward.
“Cease your wailing, Mr. Carlyle,” Mrs. Morris, his teacher, admonishes. “It’s unbefitting of a young man.”
And that is that. Phillip is given a handkerchief for his nose, and brought back to class with a warning for his tardiness. He sits silently in his chair, eyes red and swollen, shivering from the sensation of feeling his classmates’ gazes on him. He is unable to pay attention to what his teacher is saying, too focused on the fast rhythm of his heart, as if it’s trying to fend off the ice building around it.
When school comes to an end for the day, Phillip goes to collect the remains of his torn book. He is then picked up by his nanny, Miss Eliza. He likes her, she’s always nice and caring with him. But the weight of his ripped book in his satchel heightens his wish to see his mother. He notices Mrs. Morris, adorning a pinched look, handing a small envelope to his nanny, who takes it with her head bowed. Phillip has often seen his nanny acting like this in front of his parents, especially when his father is angry. He idly realizes that he must have looked the same today in front of his peers. Is his nanny scared and ashamed like he was? He didn’t like feeling like this. He doesn’t want his nice nanny to feel like this either. Or anyone.
As he and Miss Eliza walk home, Phillip remains quiet, his small hand held loosely in his nanny’s calloused one. Their color difference has always intrigued Phillip, but not today. He’s tired, he still feels coldness spreading inside of him, and his mind is...confused. Hurt. Should he even be going to his ballet lessons tomorrow? He wants to, but what will his classmates think? Do the girls in his ballet class think the same of him? But their teacher is a man, so why should Phillip be scorned for wanting to learn as well?
“Miss Eliza?” he asks hesitantly, not looking up.
“Yes, Master Phillip?” Miss Eliza answers sweetly.
Phillip opens his mouth, but closes it again, biting his lower lip. What if she mocks him as well? He looks up at her, and is briefly reassured by her caring dark eyes.
“Does– Am I– I mean...” he trails off, feeling the earlier acidic weight in the pit of his stomach return.
“Y’know what your father thinks ‘bout half-sentences, Master Phillip.” she says, her Southern accent thick.
Phillip nods. Better no sentence than a half-sentence, Phillip.
“Am I...different?” he asks quietly.
“O’ course you are, Master Phillip.” Miss Eliza answers with a fond smile, but frowns as Phillip bows his head miserably. “But that ain’t whatcha wanted to hear, was it, sweet’eart?”
Phillip doesn’t answer, nor does he look up. Miss Eliza sighs, squeezing his hand.
“Wha’s on that troubled mind o’ yours, lil’ Master?”
Phillip looks up shyly.
“What’s...What’s a pansy?” he asks in a whisper, eyes darting around to make sure no one is around to listen.
“Now, Phillip.” Miss Eliza admonishes sharply, looking around them as well. “You don't go askin' things like that.”
Phillip flinches. “I’m sorry.”
"Don't apologize to me, Master Phillip." She reminds him automatically, before looking at Phillip curiously. “Why d'you ask?”
Phillip hesitates once again. “I like to dance. I like to read.” he admits, looking up shyly. “Does that makes me one?”
Miss Eliza’s features soften as she looks down at the young boy under her care, at his downcast expression.
“Oh, Phillip, sweet’eart. Where d’you get that idea?”
“At school. They said–” his voice cracks. “They said that’s what I was. B-But it’s not my fault, I didn’t know! And–”
“Quiet down, lil’ one. Breathe.” Miss Eliza interrupts his agitated rambling. “And hear what I say.”
Phillip obeys, taking a deep breath, looking at his nanny with bright eyes. “It don’t matter what them other kids say. You like readin' and dancin'. It don’t mean it’s bad. It means you’re special.”
Phillip ponders over what his nanny said. Is it true? His father always says he should listen to smart people. Miss Eliza is smart. Why, only last week she taught him how to tie his shoelaces.
Feeling slightly cheered up, Phillip forgets about the envelope addressed to his father.
Chapter 2: The Cruelty Of The Young
Hello! Here's chapter 2! The next chapter should follow shortly~
Leave a comment or a kudos -or heck, both!- if you like it :)
The Cruelty Of The Young
Once home, Phillip is sent to get cleaned up before greeting his mother. She enters his room just as Miss Eliza has finished dressing him, dismissing the other woman with a short nod. Upon seeing his mother, smiling softly at him, Phillip is reminded of the reason he was so desperate to embrace her. He runs to her and throws his arms around her legs. His mother lets out a surprised yet appreciative sound at her son’s sudden gesture.
“Phillip dear, to what do I owe such a display?” she asks, patting his head affectionately.
A sob escapes Phillip’s throat, making his mother frown in concern.
“Darling mine, what’s gotten into you?” she inquires worriedly.
Phillip shakes his head quickly. He doesn’t want his mother to know, to think he is a pansy. What if she doesn't love him anymore? What if she tells his father?
“My book was damaged today, Mother.” Phillip says in a rush. It isn’t a lie. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh, my sweet little boy.” his mother says with a fond voice. “Don’t be upset. You have plenty of other books.”
Phillip sniffles, trying to blink the tears away. “But it was the book you gave me for my birthday. I won’t know if Cinderella has a happy ending.”
The Carlyle matriarch smiles and takes her son’s hands in hers, encouraging him to look up at her.
“Well, it just so happens I know the tale of Cinderella all too well.” she says innocently. “Perhaps I could even be persuaded to recite it.”
Phillip’s eyes widen almost comically. “Really, Mother? Will you tell me the story? Will you?”
His mother laughs, winking at her son playfully. “Be a good boy tonight, and it might just happen.”
Phillip grins excitedly, winking back with two eyes, sadness forgotten for now. “Oh, thank you, Mother, thank you!”
She bends down and kisses his forehead.
According to Phillip Carlyle, he has the best mother in the world.
“Tell me about your day, Phillip.” Henry Carlyle addresses his son at the dinner table, as he cuts into his beef loin.
Phillip tenses, the broccoli on his fork stopping on its way to his mouth. He sets it back down onto his plate.
“We learned about the founding fathers today, Father.” Phillip answers dutifully, trying to recall what else they did in the morning, before the...incident. “We were paired into groups and drew the oak tree behind the school. The teacher said mine was well drawned.” Hopefully, his father will be proud of this.
“ Drawn , Phillip. Not ‘drawned’.” his father says without looking up from his plate. “You must work on your verbs. Anything else? Anything out of the ordinary?”
Phillip’s gaze briefly flicks to his plate. “No...”
He jumps when his father suddenly slams his large hand on the mahogany table, making the plates and glasses shake.
“Then pray tell, boy, why is it I received a note from your teacher when I arrived home!”
Phillip looks away from his father’s angry eyes, to his mother, who is setting down her cutlery, movements stiff.
“I-I don’t–” he stammers, heart skipping a couple of beats.
“What have I said about stuttering, boy!” Carlyle Sr. shouts, once again slamming his hand down, making Phillip whimper to himself, before continuing with a cold tone. “I recall also telling you what would happen should you embarrass me, Phillip.”
Phillip’s stomach drops. “I’m sorry, Father.” he is quick to say, voice high and anxious. “I promise, it won’t happen again.”
“Of course it won’t.” his father agrees, resuming the cut in his meat. “Nevertheless, you disobeyed me. Consider your dancing lessons over.”
Ice fills Phillip’s veins. “No! Father, please! I’ll be better, I–”
“Quiet, boy!” his father snaps angrily, his stern gaze boring into Phillip’s pleading one. “You’ve disappointed me enough with your shameful display at school. You will not disappoint me further.”
Phillip’s mouth snaps shut immediately, bowing his head. “My apologies, Father.” he says quietly.
After a couple minutes of tense silence, Catherine speaks up hesitantly.
“Henry, perhaps we should let him–”
“Should let him what , Catherine?” Henry snaps impatiently, making his wife flinch. “Let our son turn into a weeping woman? A pariah ? No, I shouldn’t have let him attend those ridiculous lessons in the first place. They’re the reason why he acted no better than a snivelling poltroon today. A waste of time and money, is what it was.”
Phillip swallows thickly, fighting back shamed-filled tears.
Nothing else is said for the remainder of dinner. Phillip doesn’t touch his plate again, appetite lost.
“You’re quiet tonight, dear.” his mother remarks as she tucks her son into bed.
Phillip doesn’t look at her. “I’m sorry, Mother.” he says quietly. “I’m tired.”
That’s the truth. He is tired, after having cried one too many times that day, having fought back too many more tears as well. He is heartbroken at being forbidden to take any more ballet lessons, ashamed at having disappointed his father, and is fearfully dreading having to go back to school the next day.
“Is that so?” His mother hums. “Too tired for a story?”
Phillip looks up, perking up slightly. “Cinderella’s story?” he asks, hopeful, before remembering the earlier scolding. “But... I wasn’t good.” he adds regretfully.
“Oh, Phillip.” his mother sighs with a sad smile. “You’re always a good boy in my books.”
Phillip’s lips twitch into a hesitant smile. “Really?”
“Really.” She pats his cheek. “Now, about that story.”
“Goodnight, Phillip.” Catherine wishes softly, kissing her son’s forehead as his eyes flutter close in exhaustion, a content smile on his face. She pulls the covers up to his chin as she stands up from the bed.
“Mother?” Phillip calls out tiredly.
“Yes, darling mine?”
“Do you think...I can have a story like Cind’ella’s...when I grow up?” he asks, already half asleep.
The Carlyle matriarch smiles fondly. “Of course, my little prince. Just like Cinderella’s.”
“Mm...” he hums, on the brink of sleep. “I can... have my own prince too, one day?”
He doesn’t see the frown forming on his mother’s face, asleep at last.
“For your sake, darling, I hope you never ask your father this.” she whispers softly to her son’s sleeping form. “Or anyone.”
The next day, Phillip is just as tense as he was the previous day. His heart skips a beat when Miss Eliza lets go of his hand and ushers him into the school. He marches forward, eyes darting in all directions. He didn’t bring a book today, too afraid it will end up as Cinderella’s: in the back of his cupboard, muddied and ripped in half. He steps into the classroom, and sits down in his seat. Not a comment, not a snicker. The lesson begins.
During the recreation time, Phillip finds himself heading towards the large tree, his usual spot, sitting down in the grass. He watches the other students play and laugh. He misses having his book. He eventually stares off into nothingness, imagining himself dancing on a stage, his father and mother beaming proudly, until a nudge to the foot startles him back to reality.
“Phillip?” Mary, a girl from his class, addresses him. “Would you like to join us in a game of hopscotch?” She points behind her at a few others girls and boys waving.
Phillip can’t help but break into a smile. He stands up, and follows Mary back to the middle of the yard, where a long hopscotch has been drawn with chalk.
Another boy, Michael, hands him a stone.
“Here, you can have the first throw.”
Phillip nods eagerly. “Thank you.” He throws the stone. It lands on six.
Despite not having played this game in awhile, Phillip still remembers how it’s done. He narrows his eyes in concentration. He jumps on the number one with his right foot, on the two with his left foot, right foot on three, left on four, both on five, skip the six, both on seven, left on eight, right on nine, and both on–
Phillip stops, staring at the writing on the ground, where the number ten should be.
He continues to stare at the word, aware of the rising giggles around him. His heart once again begins to beat faster, teeth clenching, vision blurring. It’s just like yesterday. It’s happening again. Please don’t do this again, please –
“Look at Carlyle!” Benjamin Astor exclaims, stepping from around the corner with Harrison Vanderbilt. “He’s not denying it anymore! You proud of being a pansy boy?”
“N-No, I’m not a...” Phillip whispers, unheard over the sound of laughter. “I’m not...”
“What’s the matter, pansy boy?” Harrison jeers. “Gonna cry again?”
Phillip clenches his fists, wanting to walk away, to be anywhere but here, but finding himself rooted in place.
“Here, pansy boy, I’ll get you started.” Benjamin says mischievously.
Phillip startles with a sharp gasp as cold water is poured over his head. More laughter. He cannot control the whimper that escapes his lips as the cold water slides down his back. He swears he feels it seep into his body, freezing around his heart, joining the fragments from yesterday. Even the tears sliding down his wet cheeks seem cold.
Chapter 3: A Brittle Change
A Brittle Change
Phillip grows fearful of going to school. Sleep evades him most nights, and nightmares plague him when he is finally able to sleep. He’ll wake up in sweats, heart beating madly, hearing echoes of that one haunting word. He barely eats anything anymore, finds himself unable to focus on school, and hasn’t opened a book since his “Cinderella” was ripped in half. He just cannot seem to immerse himself in his imagination. He misses ballet, and at the same time, resents it. It’s been three months since the first ‘incident’. It starts with the name-calling, the few shoves here and there. It then evolves into more colorful insults, rougher shoves. Foot tripping in the corridors, crude drawings on his desk, lunch stolen or replaced with dirt, orange juice in his satchel, note books ruined with slurs. Almost everyday, someone ‘accidentally’ spills their cup of water on him. Occasionally, his clothes get stolen in the gymnasium. He doesn’t dare to change in front of his peers anymore anyway, dreading the comments on his body. He had never cared about being shorter than average before. But now he is ashamed of it, of his hair, of the color of his eyes, of his 'frail arms', of his 'flat nose' and 'large ears'. For fear of being further laughed at, he stops trying to defend himself, mostly keeping his mouth shut and head bowed instead. At least he can somewhat pride himself on having successfully kept his tears at bay since the second day of school.
At home, Phillip’s relationship with his parents is strained. He doesn’t hug his mother anymore, as he thinks himself dirty, sullied, and therefore undeserving of her embrace. He doesn’t ask for stories before bed. He is a bad son, so why should he be loved by his amazing mother?
As for his father, Phillip isn’t sure if he still admires the man, or if he fears him. Phillip knows it’s his own fault his grades have taken a dive. It’s his fault his teacher often hands an upsetting envelope to his nanny with Henry Carlyle’s name on it. Therefore, it’s also his fault if he receives more and more verbal lashings with rising frequency. He wants to tell his parents what's going on, but he fears it will only make them angry and further embarrassed of him.
One morning, the students are made to do a presentation on one of the founding fathers in front of the class, a project that was announced a week prior. Phillip can feel the cold sweat gathering on his forehead as one after the other, his peers finish their speeches.
“Mr. Carlyle.” Phillip jumps as his name is called up with annoyance. “Once again, you are not listening. Begin your presentation.”
Phillip tries to swallow the acidic marble lodged in his throat as he stands up and walks to the front of the class, feeling as though he is walking towards a precipice. The paper he is holding shakes in his hands as he stares through it. Already he hears the whispered mockings of the other children. Or is it in his head? His eyes flick up briefly, regretting it as he sees Benjamin and Harrison, his two main tormentors, point at him while snickering.
“We do not have all day, Mr. Carlyle.” Mrs. Morris sighs exasperatedly.
Taking a deep breath, Phillip opens his mouth, feeling his tongue turn to cotton. Everyone is watching. They’re pointing. Whispering. There’s something wrong with him. Why are they all looking at him like that?
“I-I will be t-talking ab-about George, um, G-George Washinton–”
“ Washington. ” Mrs. Morris corrects with a shake of her head. “Quiet!” she snaps when the other children giggle.
Phillip only feels his heart beat faster. He doesn’t remember what he wrote down on his paper. He tries to read, but the words don’t seem to make any sense. Why are his legs so heavy. Is he standing on quicksand? “W-Washington. H-He was th-the f-founder of...of...” More chuckles. He can hear it, that word. Good for nothing pansy. “Of...H-He was...the p-president– the f-first president...” Phillip trails off as the chuckles turn into outright laughter. What’s wrong with him? He can’t string two words together. They’re right, he’s pathetic. He doesn’t want to be. It’s not his fault, is it? But whose fault would it be? It isn’t fair, what has he done wrong?
“Maybe he needs a glass of water!” Benjamin’s voice emerges, mocking, among the rising laughter, causing Phillip to shiver in fear and embarrassment.
“Quiet!” Mrs. Morris orders her class, but is ignored. She turns her irritation on Phillip’s trembling form. “Mr. Carlyle, that’s enough of your foolishness. I will be once again writing to your father. Such an attitude is disgraceful and a waste of all our time. Are you even listening, Mr. Carlyle?”
No, Phillip isn’t listening. His lungs refuse to inflate. His vision tunnels. What will his father say this time? You’re a disappointment! He tries not to be! Why is everything he does shameful? Why can’t he be normal? He can’t even breathe without being judged and mocked. It’s not his fault, it’s not! He doesn’t want to be a– pansy! Pansy! Pansy! Disappointment! Failure!
His stomach lurches. The laughter stops.
Phillip finally takes a deep breath, only to double over once more, regurgitating the rest of his small breakfast atop the pile already on the wooden floor.
Phillip doesn’t entirely recall being escorted to the infirmary. He’d been too focused on not collapsing to register Mrs. Morris grabbing his arm and dragging him out of the classroom. She’s telling him something. Phillip tries to understand what it is she’s saying, but the words sound blurred. He finds himself sitting on the examination bed, the nurse’s sentences also coming out garbled. He remains seated there for a long time, feeling embarrassed to the point of nausea, until he is eventually led back outside. Miss Eliza greets him in front of the school. Phillip watches numbly as she is once again handed an envelope before taking his hand and gently guiding him away.
It's cold outside, the November air blowing away the last dead leaves around them. The cold doesn't bother Phillip this time, he finds it grounding. He doesn’t speak a word on the way back home, thankful for his nanny’s lack of comment and her strength, as he doesn’t think he’d be able to stand, much less walk, by himself.
His mother is waiting for him on the doorsteps of the mansion. Phillip has never felt so small compared to it until now. She rushes over to him, crouches down and hugs him fiercely. He flinches, not returning the embrace. Does she not see how undeserving of her love he is? Especially now?
She guides him inside, telling him how worried she was when they received a telegraph from the school about what happened. It stirs more unpleasant churns in Phillip’s stomach.
“Phillip.” His father stands neutrally in the doorway of his office, the newest envelope already in hand.
The numbness slowly converts to dread as Henry Carlyle gestures for his son to follow him inside his office. Phillip doesn’t look back at his mother, too ashamed to face her, and walks after his father. The sound of the door closing is like the church’s immense bell. Final. Despite going through this ‘ritual’ every few evenings, Phillip still feels trepidation over the verbal lashing that is sure to follow. He watches as his father opens the envelope behind his desk, observes anxiously as his face doesn’t contort to anger, as it usually does.
“I’m sorry–” Phillip quickly begins, only to stop as his father raises his hand to demand silence.
He walks around the desk to stand in front of Phillip, hands clasped behind his back.
“Tell me, Phillip,” he starts calmly, “where is this all originating from?”
Phillip lets out a breath. His father is not shouting at him. Maybe he could finally tell him what’s been happening at school. But, what if it makes things worse? The embarrassment, the shame...
“I-I’m...embarrassed t-to say, Father...” he says quietly, unable to hold the senior Carlyle’s gaze for very long.
“Out with it, Phillip.” his father says, tone still carefully guarded.
Phillip bites his lip. Maybe he’ll understand. Maybe he’ll even help.
“M-My peers, at school–” he starts hesitantly, impossibly more nervous than ever.
“Speak up, boy.” his father orders curtly, making Phillip flinch and his throat tighten even more. Nevertheless, he tries to obey, however still unable to conceal the tremor in his voice.
“Th-They...” he stammers, the pressure sitting thick on his tongue, “They t-treat me...w-with scorn. They...t-torment me...”
Finally, Phillip feels a heavy weight being lifted off his heart. He should have told his father sooner, for surely he can make everything better. Phillip looks up after a couple seconds of silence.
The slap that follows is as loud as a clap. The open-handed smack leaves a red welt on Phillip’s cheek, who staggers backwards with a choked cry, clutching his face, eyes watering.
“Do you take me for the biggest fool with those lies, boy?!” his father shouts furiously. “No son of mine would be such a coward!”
Phillip stares back up at his father with wide eyes, shocked beyond words, the pain on his cheek travelling all the way to his heart, reenforcing the ice there. He is torn between breaking into frightened and pained sobs, defending the truth in his statement, or running away. He does none of those options, remaining quiet instead, staring at his shoes. He sees a couple of tears drip down onto them silently.
“Get out of my sight, boy.” Carlyle Sr. sighs angrily. “And don’t you dare lie to me again.”
Phillip turns on his heels, stumbling on weak legs, and exits his father’s office.
He walks past his nanny, who gives him a look of compassion, and sees his mother waiting by the grand staircase, a sad expression on her face.
He knows the both of them, if not everyone in the mansion, heard his father calling him a liar and a coward. They probably heard the slap as well, seeing as how it still rings in Phillip’s ear minutes later. It makes him want to find a hole in which to hide until they forget about him. He wants to run to his room, but he’s afraid his legs might give out under him. And so, he slowly walks up the stairs, ignoring his mother’s soft calls of worry.
He reaches his room, letting the door close behind him. He takes off his shoes, and lays down on his bed without bothering to wash up. He hasn’t had lunch, nor does he want any. He simply curls up facing the wall, pressing his forehead against it. Finally, he fully lets the hot tears fall from his eyes, past the stinging cheek and onto the sheets, silent, and mortified.
He is mocked and ridiculed by his classmates for anything he does or says. He is called foolish and disgraceful for even trying to express himself. Instead of words, his breakfast came out of his mouth. And finally, despite telling the truth to his father, seeking his help through honesty, he was punished. Painfully so.
It terrifies him.
He is eventually brought down for dinner by Miss Eliza. She attempts to enquire on his well-being, but Phillip doesn’t answer. Dinner is tense, barely a few sentences exchanged between husband and wife. Phillip remains quiet all throughout, grateful for the lack of interest in him tonight.
His untouched plate, however, draws his mother’s attention.
“Phillip dear, you haven’t touched your dinner.” she says, concern evident in her voice. “Are you still feeling unwell from this morning?”
Phillip nods. It’s not a lie. It’s not the complete truth either.
“Answer your mother properly, Phillip.” his father corrects him almost absent-mindedly.
Phillip flinches, heart once again picking up its pace. He opens his mouth to do as he is told, but finds himself unable to. His throat won’t work, his tongue won’t move. His stomach churns, sending acid up his larynx, just like this morning. He quickly lowers his head. What’s wrong with him? He opens his mouth again, only managing a weak sound, a puff of air.
“ Phillip. ” his father snaps. “Still, you disobey?”
“Henry,” his mother says, a frown adorning her features, “I think something’s the matter. Phillip, what’s wrong?”
Phillip’s shoulders hunch forward, shaking his head.
“Phillip!” his father’s voice rises. “Answer your mother, or you are grounded to your room!”
Phillip looks up to his mother, eyes apologetic and ashamed, and quickly rises from his seat, practically running back upstairs.
He adopts the same position he’s been in the entire afternoon, only now he has no tears left to cry. Why can’t he talk without feeling this way? Everything you say is stupid, pansy boy! That’s not true, is it? He cups his cheek, no longer stinging but still slightly red. Don’t you dare lie to me again. Talking results in getting ridiculed, hurt.
He doesn’t want to feel this way again.
He feigns sleep when his mother enters his room. He doesn’t react when she pats his hair and pulls the covers over him, wishing him sweet dreams. But Phillip doesn’t get pleasant dreams, as he stays awake all night.
Chapter 4: Silenced Mind
The next morning, as Miss Eliza enters his room to wake him up, she doesn't seem entirely surprised to find him awake. She tells him he must get ready for school, which results in Phillip immediately retching. It’s only bile, but nonetheless his nanny quickly fetches his mother.
Barely an hour later, a doctor arrives. It’s not their usual family doctor, as Dr. Jones is currently bed-ridden with a fever. The doctor on hand introduces himself as Doctor Thomas Palmer. He is young, in his early thirties –around Henry Carlyle’s age– but already well-experienced in his profession. His theories on the human mind have received both praise and scepticism. Phillip’s father, standing in the doorway of his son's room, silently observes his wife watching over Phillip worriedly as he lays in bed, shaking like a leaf. The head of the Carlyle family greets the doctor with a respectful nod.
“Good morning, Doctor Palmer.” Catherine says, her eyes not leaving her son’s small form.
“Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle. Phillip.” Doctor Palmer answers. “I hear you’re feeling unwell today, is that so?”
Phillip doesn’t answer, remaining in his curled position. The doctor raises an eyebrow.
“Please forgive my son’s appalling behavior, Doctor.” Henry comments coldly. “He has proven himself to be quite the wretch recently.”
Phillip flinches minutely, hands fisting tighter into the sheets.
"He hasn't spoken a word to us since yesterday." Catherine informs him, worry evident in her voice.
The doctor observes Phillip curiously, before taking out his stethoscope. “If you could sit up for me, Phillip.”
He does. The doctor lifts Phillip’s shirt and presses the cold metal piece against his chest. He listens to his heartbeat for a few long seconds before writing it down on his notepad. Elevated heartbeat. He then probes at Phillip’s ribs and back, tests his knee reflexes, checks his eyes and ears, and looks into his mouth.
“Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle, if I could ask the both of you to stand outside the room for a few minutes, I have a few questions to ask your son.”
Phillip’s mother looks ready to protest, but with a nod from her husband, she stands, looking at Phillip with no less worry than earlier, and leaves. Once alone, Doctor Palmer flips the paper with his notes over to commence a new page.
“So, Phillip, are you actually feeling any physical pain anywhere?” he asks gently.
Phillip doesn’t answer.
“Have you lost your voice? Does your throat hurt?” Again, no answer. “Alright. How about you answer me with a nod or a shake of your head? Do you think you can do that?”
Hesitantly, Phillip nods. The doctor smiles encouragingly.
“Good. Now, how about we try to figure out what’s the matter.”
Half an hour later, the doctor emerges from Phillip’s room, closing the door behind him.
“Have you found any sickness? Is it dangerous?” Catherine asks in a rush. “Will he be alright?”
“Catherine.” Henry says with disapproval. “Let the doctor speak. I’m sure nothing is amiss and Phillip is simply throwing yet another tantrum.”
Doctor Palmer sighs. “Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle.” he starts calmly. “I’m afraid your son is indeed sick.” He ignores the Carlyle matriarch's gasp. “It is, however, not a physical disease, therefore has no immediate cure.”
“Explain yourself.” Carlyle Sr. demands.
“Phillip seems to have what the psychiatric community calls ‘melancholia’.” He pauses to let the information sink in. “Your son appears to suffer from paralyzing nervosity. I am given the impression that certain subjects cause his brain to become overwhelmed and act in ways it think will protect itself.”
At Catherine Carlyle’s horror stricken expression, the doctor is quick to add. “Now don’t despair, it is treatable, in the short term. Cases in young children are less common, therefore we can’t administer the same treatment as we do for adults. But rest assured, with proper support, Phillip won’t remain mute forever.”
“‘Mute’?” Catherine echoes in a breath.
“Selective mutism, Mrs. Carlyle. A documented effect of melancholia–”
“You mean to tell me my son is a loon?” Henry Carlyle asks with disdain. “Impossible. Only negroes and immigrants can be shipped to an asylum.”
“I’m afraid he is indeed mentally ill , Mr. Carlyle, as well as severely underweight." the doctor answers calmly. “But Phillip won’t be committed to any asylum. He just needs a lot of rest and therapy. At his young age, there isn’t much more to be done.”
“ Therapy? ” Catherine exclaims, her hand going to her heart in shock. “But he is only a child!”
“Exactly, Mrs. Carlyle.” Doctor Palmer agrees with a nod. “As such, it is imperative that Phillip’s health be closely monitored by a professional.”
“We are not letting word of...of this nonsense out, Doctor.” Henry snaps. “No one else is to know of this.”
Doctor Palmer knows it is pointless to argue with the senior Carlyle about the importance of health versus appearances.
“If I may, Mr. Carlyle, would you consider my services to guide your son back to health? I have studied psychology at–”
“Yes, yes, do what you must.” Henry interrupts with a dismissive wave of his hand. “As long as Phillip’s... condition remains quiet.”
He walks away, grumbling about the ridicule of the situation and about needing a drink.
Catherine watches her husband leave, letting her shoulders fall with a sigh before turning back to address the doctor.
“What has happened to my son, Doctor Palmer?” she asks with an edge. “He used to be such a happy child. What have I done wrong?”
The doctor regards her with a sad smile. “As I understand it, Phillip’s decline was not caused by you, Mrs. Carlyle. That’s all I can say, however, as patient-doctor confidentiality comes into play. He might tell you himself, one day.”
“I understand, Doctor.” she answers quietly, and adds after a heavy pause, “Please, help my son.”
“I will, Mrs. Carlyle. Rest assured.”
It takes Phillip just over three months to recover. Physically, at least. With careful monitoring from both his mother and his nanny, Phillip regains the weight he lost, as well as a regular sleep schedule. Phillip doesn’t know how, but every time he wakes from nightmares, his nanny is always there, ready to console him. His father, however, still continues to scoff at the diagnosis, occasionally telling Phillip to ‘grow up’, that his childish actions are upsetting his mother. It makes Phillip want to talk again, and at the same time, never show his face again. He knows his mother is sad because of him. He’s never hated anyone before, not even his classmates, but now he can make an exception for himself. For causing grief to his mother, he loathes himself.
Doctor Palmer hands Phillip a notebook, suggesting to write or draw down his thoughts, for his own eyes only. Phillip finds it relaxing, the sound of pen on paper soothing.
His mother coaxes him to give music a try. So he sits on the piano bench next to her, listening as she plays beautifully. Sometimes he tries with her, making her smile. Sometimes he cries silently in her lap because he doesn’t understand why he can’t bring himself to touch the keys that day.
Christmas is spent in a quiet and glum household. Phillip feels worse than usual after having heard his mother cry softly by his bed the previous night when she thought he was sleeping. He then learns that Saint Nicholas is only a myth as Miss Eliza guides him downstairs to sit in front of a pile of presents by the tree, surrounded by his parents. He opens the presents, feeling undeserving of them, and can only manage a strained smile, just like his parents. He knows now that Saint Nicholas isn’t real. After all, he only brings presents to good children.
After these three months, his father loses patience. One day, his mother goes upstate to visit her sister who has fallen ill. That same night, his father is shouting at Phillip, ordering him to goddamn talk! When Phillip’s lower lip begins to quiver, his father slaps him, then grabs him roughly by the arm, dragging him to the entrance hall. He opens the front door and shoves Phillip outside, with the threat of leaving him there unless he talks again. Phillip’s eyes are wide and fearful, his mouth opening but no words coming forward. The door is slammed in his face.
He hears Miss Eliza's agitated voice inside, followed by a clap and then, silence.
The next morning, Henry Carlyle finds his son sitting on the marble floor by the door, knees held tightly to his chest. He is trembling, hair ruffled as if it was gripped tightly and pulled, his small knuckles and nails red from use. He looks up at his father, eyes just as red and swollen.
“I’m sorry." Phillip whispers hoarsely.
He is allowed back inside, and handed a cup of hot tea by his nanny, who wears a bruise on her cheek. He doesn't dare to ask, nor meet her eye.
Phillip’s mother is overjoyed at her son’s seeming willingness to speak again. She doesn’t see the way his throat constricts with every syllable. He doesn’t tell her.
Chapter 5: With Time Come New Beginnings
Here's another one, because I was late this week! :)
With Time Come New Beginnings
The next time Phillip feels ice clawing at his heart is only years later. Phillip is now fourteen. He’s in his third year of boarding school, after having completed his elementary education at home with private tutors, including formal dancing –which he had taken no joy in learning, as it had made him long for ballet again. His mother had insisted he stay home for his studies, throwing a fit at her husband when he had wanted to send Phillip back to school on the next day he had regained his voice. Doctor Palmer, who had been baffled at Phillip's sudden recovery, had also expressed his support on private tutoring. And so, on the condition that Phillip would attend boarding school at the age of twelve, Henry Carlyle had agreed. To say that Phillip had been nerve-wrecked to start this school would have been an understatement. He had had the barest social interactions for the last four years, and he had been perfectly fine without it. Doctor Palmer, who still came for monthly checks, had assured him it would be good for him to make friends again. But Phillip doesn’t even remember having any.
His first two years had consisted in Phillip focusing entirely on his studies, not giving himself time to overthink any social interaction he had found himself in. To his immense relief, he had been left alone. Doctor Palmer would sigh in exasperation when they would meet during the holidays.
“Students, this is your new classmate, William Durand.” their teacher, Mr. Mortimer, introduces. “You will see to it that he feels welcome into this school. Go take a seat, Mr. Durand.”
Phillip, as well as all his classmates, watch William as he looks back and forth between the two available desks. One is by the door second row, and the other, by the window, last row, next to Phillip himself. Phillip quickly averts his eyes when William takes a step in his direction.
“Hi, I’m William. So what’s fun to do around here?” the boy asks with a smile as he sits down next to Phillip.
Phillip glances up at him, then at the teacher as he starts the lesson, then back to his notebook.
He should say something back, shouldn’t he. His name, a cordial retort, a vague answer and that’s it. Is that proper enough? Damn , he’s taking too much time answering. Is it more odd not to answer at all, or to answer after a full minute of silence? Will this new boy figure out Phillip is different and tell the others? Will they finally mock him this year? Damndamncalmdown –
“So, does Mr. Mortimer always have bad breath, or–”
“Phillip.” the blue-eyed boy blurts out, still looking intently at his blank page. “Yes, um, I mean, sometimes he does. And, um...The library is nice.”
“Quiet in the back.” the teacher calls.
William looks at Phillip curiously, and huffs a laugh.
“Alright. Nice to meet you, Phillip. The library, you say?” he whispers as he taps his chin in mock-thoughtfulness. “My, are you a bookworm , Phillip?”
Phillip’s hand tightens around his pen, jaw clenching.
“I...I just like to read.” he says quietly, a vague memory surfacing. Why did he say that? He shouldn’t have said that.
“Well, that’s just my luck then.” William answers with a grin. “So do I. I can tell we’re gonna be great friends, Phillip.”
Phillip finally looks up fully, and is surprised by the genuine look of delight adorning his new deskmate’s features. He takes him in properly for the first time since he had entered the classroom.
Vibrant and warm green eyes, brown hair perfectly combed back, elegant eyebrows, sharp nose. Full lips. The boy sitting next to Phillip is nothing short of handsome. Phillip feels himself blushing, and looks back down quickly. He can’t, however, help the small, hopeful smile that graces his lips. Hope blossoms in his chest, as well as another feeling he chooses to ignore.
William’s ‘prediction’ turns out to be correct, as William immediately takes a liking to Phillip’s shy but smart self. He even eventually manages to dig out that witty humor that Phillip hides well, and he never once mocks Phillip for his love of books and quiet. Phillip, in turn albeit slower, begins to feel comfortable around William. He laughs softly whenever William makes jokes, listens to his wild stories with an amused expression, and lets himself be dragged out of the library to go outside every now and then. Phillip helps William with math and history, and in return, William teaches French to Phillip. When Phillip eventually reveals his past ballet lessons, the green-eyed boy offers to teach him tap-dancing. Phillip is overjoyed, not only about the offer, but about the lack of laughter at this part of his past. All in all, Phillip is happy to have a friend as great as William. His first real friend. He's also the first person he trusts to inform him of his illness. William tells him he will help whenever and however he can. True to his word, when Phillip finds himself inexplicably nervous or blue, William is there to either sit quietly by his side, to guide him to the music room for Phillip to play the piano, or even to read him a random book. Sometimes, William will even hug him tightly. Phillip loves being held like this. But then, he wishes he could be as good of a friend to William as William is to Phillip. William tells him not to worry about it, that making Phillip feel better is all that matters to him. Slowly, Phillip's doubts disappear, letting way to warm tingles in his chest.
It’s December, a few days before the holidays, and both Phillip and William are studying for their last exam of the season in their usual spot in the library. After hours of pouring into history books, the two boys have ended up laying down on the carpeted floor, rubbing their eyes exhaustingly.
William groans. “I give up. There’s too much to remember! Who cares about history anyway? It’s done for already!”
Phillip laughs. “ Ne t’exaspère point, Will [Don’t aggravate yourself, Will]. Without history, we wouldn’t learn from our past victories and mistakes.”
William rolls onto his back with an other exaggerated groan, bumping Phillip on his side.
“I want to live in the present. Damned be the past!”
Phillip chuckles, turning his head to look at his friend fondly. He’s lost count of how many times he’s caught himself staring at William for too long. He’s always trying to chase away the stubborn thought of how beautiful his friend is. How he loves seeing his smiles. The tingling in his stomach whenever he manages to make William laugh. The way his lips dry up when William shows him a new routine during their tap-dancing sessions. The overall butterflies-like feeling in his entire body at the other boy’s mere presence. He's heard some of his other classmates talk about girls from back home this way. It's not normal to think about William similarly, is it? He still remembers the feeling of William’s arms around him when they had received their first math test results after Phillip had begun to tutor his friend: 92% for Phillip, and 89% for William. Phillip had really liked that feeling of warmth. Now, as he stares at the green-eyed boy, the word ‘beautiful’ once again skips around in his head.
Phillip blinks. He didn’t realize William had also turned his head to look at him. He tries to come up with a witty comment, but he can’t seem to. It must be the tiredness. And maybe that sharp yet intrigued look in William’s eyes.
“You have really pretty eyes, you know?” William whispers, not a hint of joking in his tone.
Phillip swallows. “O-Oh. Um, thank you.” he whispers back, lowering his eyes and biting his lower lip self consciously. When he looks back up a second later, he sees William staring at his lips.
He’d learned the meaning of that word years ago. More recently, it scares him. Phillip quickly sits up. “I, um, I think we’ve studied enough, don’t you think? I’m exhausted.”
William sits up slowly. “Yeah, definitely. Thanks for the help, by the way.”
Phillip internally beams. “You’re most welcome.”
They gather up their books and make their way to the sleeping quarters. All fifteen boys in their class sleep in one dorm. Phillip’s bed is by the window, and William’s is opposite his. They quietly get ready for bed as the others are already sleeping or having quiet conversations. William waves at Phillip from his bed before laying down. As Phillip does the same, he lets his thoughts wander. He thinks about tomorrow’s test, about going home for the holidays, about seeing his parents. He grips his sheets. Even years later, Phillip is afraid of seeing his father. Everytime Phillip comes home, his father finds something to be upset about with Phillip. What if he’s disappointed in his results? What if a teacher tells him he’s been talking in class with William? What if they tell him he’s too close to his friend? Are they acting improper? What if he somehow learns about Phillip’s thoughts about William? He’ll be furious. What if he locks him out again, what if he hits him? Those last two thoughts remain with Phillip everyday. It’s been years since it happened, but what if?
The next day, Phillip and his class sit down for their last test, and let out a collective sigh when it’s over. The day passes quickly after that. They pack, attend a Christmas celebration with the rest of the school, and partake in a snow fight in the courtyard. William and Phillip make snow angels in the white powdery snow, and enter a contest of who can shove the most snow into the other’s coats. They go back up to the library afterwards to warm up.
That night, Phillip once again lays awake, tormented by his thoughts.
“Can’t sleep either?”
Phillip startles, whipping his head towards William, who is crouching by his bed.
“ William. ” Phillip hisses. “You scared me half to death.” He can’t help the small smile that builds on his lips.
“Scaredy cat.” William teases, taking ahold of Phillip’s sleeve. “Come on, grab your shoes and coat.”
Phillip frowns. “What? Why?”
William grins mischievously. “We’re going out.”
And that’s how Phillip finds himself shivering outside, boots deep in snow and breath coming out as warm little clouds.
“So, will you finally tell me why we’re risking expulsion right after we’ve taken all of our examinations?”
William chuckles, and takes his hand. “We’re living a little. Come on.”
He pulls Phillip into the small woods surrounding the school. Phillip lets himself be led around, unable to stop giggling, feeling a rush of adrenaline at the prospect of breaking the rules.
Finally, William stops in front of the small frozen stream. It looks beautiful, leaving Phillip in awe and feeling oddly at ease. That is, until he turns to find William standing very close to him. Perhaps too close. Neither of them say a word for a few long seconds, just staring at the other. Phillip wants to look away, to ask what’s happening, to run . And yet he doesn't. But that's not normal. Why is his heart beating so fast? What's wrong with him? But, for once, it's not unpleasant. He's read romance novels. Is this what it's like? Wild butterflies in the stomach and dizziness? But that can't– that shouldn't be. Not with William. He's not a pansy! He's not a freak, he can't be. Neither of them can be!
“I’ve never had a friend like you before, Phillip.” William eventually whispers. And is it just Phillip’s imagination, or is he even closer than before?
“I... Me neither.” he answers, his voice tight. What's happening to him? This can't be happening.
The next thing he knows, William is pressing his lips against his. It’s cold, given the temperature, yet burning. Short and chaste. Alarming . Right. Terrifying. But it’s perfect. His first kiss is perfect.
Chapter 6: Deception Comes In Many Shapes
Deception Comes In Many Shapes
As Phillip predicted, his father is disappointed. At what, this time, Phillip doesn’t quite know. He’s not paying attention to the shouting for once, letting his mind wander back to that magical moment in the snow-covered woods with William. He can still feel the tingling sensation on his lips. He still has crippling doubt of the rightfulness of it all, but how wrong can it really be when it made his heart sing so loud?
“Get out of my sight, boy!”
And that’s his cue. “Yes, Father.”
Phillip leaves the office, and heads to his room. He sits down at his desk, takes out his ink and paper, and begins writing to his… friend? That’s still what William and him are, right? Friends? Because two boys can’t be anything else, right? Right?
All throughout the first two weeks of holidays, William and Phillip exchange letters. They write to each other every day. For Christmas, Phillip receives a new pen from William. He laughs as he opens the gift, having sent a pen to his friend as well. With Phillip’s new pen, however, is attached an envelope apart from the traditional Christmas wishes. He opens it.
“My dearest Phillip, my wisest and closest friend,
How I cannot wait for the holidays to end.
For each day here without you is like a thousand,
And as such my heart feels most cold and imprisoned.
I swear, that every night as I close my eyes,
I imagine yours, and oh my heartbeat rises.
You may wield words expertly, Phillip, as you do,
But in the woods, for once, I enjoyed stopping you.
Phillip is sure he blushes all the way down to his toes. William must be mad to send this to him. He should throw this letter away, burn it so it doesn’t leave a single shred of evidence of their secret. But he doesn’t. How could he? No one has ever told him such charming words. Such enticing words. So he tucks it away in his newly dubbed ‘keepsake’ box, hidden behind his wardrobe. He then writes an answer, thanking William for the gift, and scolding him half-heartedly for the poem while letting him know how much he loved it. Still feeling particularly emotional from the poem, he reveals to William how he’d never been made to feel this way until now. He writes how honored he is to be able to call him a friend. More than a friend. He doesn’t get more specific than that. As he hands his sealed letter to Miss Eliza so she can post it along with his father’s business letters, Phillip is already looking forward to William’s next communication.
But none come the next day. Or the day after. Or the one after that. At first, Phillip thinks it’s probably the postal office having difficulties because of the snow. It is quite thick and rough outside in December. Yet his father and mother receive their correspondences without disturbance. So he writes a short letter asking William if the previous letter made it to destination, and wishes him a happy new year just in case. After the first week, Phillip writes another letter. Still no answer. He reads back through the previous letters, wondering if he forgot that William mentioned going out of town for a period, but he finds no information. He tries to chase away his doubts. Maybe something happened to William? No, don’t think that! Besides, he would have learned of it surely. Maybe a family member got sick, and William went to visit them, like Phillip’s mother did all those years ago and his father locked him out – No , quiet!
Then, the other thoughts begin to seep through. Did Phillip write something upsetting? Did he do something before the holidays that offended his friend? Is William finally realizing how worthless Phillip is? How damaged he is? No, that would not make sense. William has always made him feel normal, and then special. He wouldn’t suddenly change his mind, would he? Would he?
The final week of the month long holiday comes to an end, with still no word from William, marking a two-week-long silence. Phillip’s mood has become more glum with each passing day, despite Miss Eliza and his mother trying to cheer him up. He tells them he simply misses his friends at school, which puts a hesitant smile on his mother’s face, and a concerned look on his nanny’s.
Phillip is torn between dread and excitement at the prospect of seeing William again. What if he’s mad? What if he ignores him? What if he’s come to his senses and begins mocking Phillip with all the secrets they’ve shared? Mentally scolding himself for thinking the worst in his best friend, Phillip tries to think the opposite; William smiling at him, telling him he was unavailable and unable to contact Phillip, but he missed Phillip dearly. The two of them catching up in the library, and maybe, later that night, reconnecting in the woods. But Phillip can’t chase the doubts away.
He bids goodbye to his parents the morning school recommences. A shake of hand from his father who tells him to behave appropriately and bring home better grades this semester. His mother hugs him tightly, tears in her eyes. It’s the usual farewell customs.
Arriving at his boarding school, Phillip holds his luggage in a nervous tight grip, slipping through the doors among the hoard of chattering students, some of them all jittery with excitement to start a new semester, others grumbling about their annoyance at it. Phillip scolds his features to remain perfectly neutral, despite wanting to tap his fingers against his hip repeatedly. He is standing in front of his dorm, hearing the sounds of his doormates talking and unpacking. Is William already in there? Has he arrived before him? Is he waiting on Phillip’s bed with a wide grin? Having stalled enough, Phillip pushes down the handle and steps into the dormitory, eyes immediately seeking the back of the room.
William’s bed in empty, no sheets or luggage on it. Phillip walks towards his own bed, reminding himself that it’s still early in the day. It’s probably better that way, so Phillip can calm himself by unpacking. William will arrive eventually.
By the time dinner time arrives, William still hasn’t. Phillip sits at the end of the table, ignoring the conversations going on around him. William has missed the first classes of the semester. The teacher didn’t even call his name during attendance. Why isn’t he here? Has he been detained?
“...William to Fulton Academy.”
Phillip blinks back into focus at the sound of his friend’s name, looking at Jacob Merrith as he converses with the others boys from their dorm. What did he say?
“How do you know?” Edwin Wilson asks Jacob.
“His sister told my sister, who told me.”
“Did she say why?”
“No, she doesn’t know.” Jacob answers with a shrug, before turning to look at Phillip. “Shouldn’t you know?” he asks.
Phillip startles at being addressed, and at the question.
“N-No, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” he answers in a relatively monotone voice.
The other boys just shrug, and move on to a new topic of conversation.
But Phillip’s mind morphs into a whirlwind of questions. William has changed schools? Why? That would explain why he isn’t here, but...not why he hasn’t corresponded with Phillip for weeks. Why hasn’t he told him? Is he changing schools because of him? Why hasn’t he told him? What did he do wrong? You know what you did wrong, Phillip. Actions have consequences.
It’s his own fault, it has to be.
Phillip doesn’t touch his plate, appetite long lost.
Later that evening, Phillip is unable to sleep.
Phillip continues sending letters to William, to his new school address –generously provided by another school peer– asking why he’s changed school, why he hasn’t told Phillip. He doesn’t ask why he’s stopped writing to Phillip after Christmas. He doesn’t dare to. But still, no answers come. Eventually, Phillip stops asking, only writes how he hopes he is doing well, how strict their new teacher is here, how the cafeteria has been repainted beige, how the library lady is still giving him suspicious looks. Still, no letters from William. Phillip barely addresses his peers, isolating himself as he had done the previous years. But this time, he can’t focus on his studies. He’s too tired from the lack of sleep and nightmares. He eats what he needs, but he doesn’t enjoy it. He still writes the letters, adding how he misses William, how he wishes he could be here, with Phillip.
A month and a half passes. And then, one afternoon, Phillip receives a letter. His heart jumps in his throat when he realizes it’s not his mother’s handwriting, but one he would also recognize anywhere. William.
He carries the letter with him throughout the rest of the classes, leg bouncing with nerves and anticipation. He can’t wait another hour before finding out the letter’s content. He has to know now . So he discreetly take the envelope out of his satchel. He lays it on his book, and slowly unseals it, pulling the letter out. It doesn’t look entirely filled. With a pounding heart, Phillip looks at the words at the center.
His breath catches.
“Please refrain from writing me any further letters.
Phillip stares at the words, throat constricting. Why would he… He doesn’t understand. Why would William write this? What happened? What did he do? He knew it, it’s his fault, he had refused to let go of hope and now he has been proven wrong– Was there bliss in ignorance? He screwed up– he’s an imbecile– a worthless imbecile– William never liked him– why did he think he could have a real friend? He’s worthless– a freak. He was stupid for giving himself hope– for thinking he was special. What did he do wrong? He asked for this. He deserves this– he’s not worthy of having people care about him– he’s alone– he’ll always be alone– unloved– rejected– abandoned. Was William mocking him the whole time? Laughing behind his back? Talking to others about how Phillip is a desperate idiot? Did their shared kiss mean nothing? Was it all a joke? A way to humiliate Phillip again? Mocked and abandoned. Alone. He’s alone. Abandoned. Cold. His insides are cold, freezing. He knows that sensation, he remembers it. He fears it.
“Mr. Carlyle, what are you doing?” Mr. Ballard calls out, making Phillip jump in his chair and realize he needs to breathe. But his lungs aren’t working. “Mr. Carlyle, sit down.”
Sit down? Phillips glances down, he is standing. When did he stand? He looks back up, the world around him moving in slow motion. Oh God, everyone is looking at him. They know. They’re laughing. Aren’t they? Dark spots cloud his vision. He can’t breathe! He can’t–
“Mr. Carlyle, for the last time, sit d–!”
Chapter 7: Revelations Don't Always Lighten The Heart
Revelations Don't Always Lighten The Heart
When Phillip wakes up in the infirmary, the first feeling he registers is the fast beating of his heart. Then the nausea. Then the shame. He remembers this. He opens his mouth, and his throat constricts, making his eyes sting with unshed tears. He doesn't want to go through this again. He doesn't. But when the nurses asks him how he feels, Phillip doesn’t answer. He's unable to. He doesn’t answer any further questions either. He doesn’t answer when his teacher is brought in, demanding an explanation. He doesn’t answer the dean either. He doesn’t tell the nurse that no, he doesn’t have a concussion, that it's only his sick brain. He doesn't tell them that he deserves this, that it's his own damn fault. They must know this already. He only turns his back to them, facing the sterile white wall next to his infirmary bed. He blocks out the worried conversation between the nurse, his teacher, and the dean, as he stares into nothingness. He can’t block his own thoughts, but he tries, imagining they’re leaving his brain through his tears.
Next time he wakes up, his mother is sitting by his bed. He looks up at her, seeing her sad smile, and looks away briefly after, ashamed of his behavior.
“It’s going to be alright, Phillip.” she says softly. “We’ll get you help again.”
As he walks out of the infirmary with his mother, he avoids the other adults’ gazes. Through the corridors, under his peers’ curious looks, he resists reaching for his mother’s hand, feeling himself tremble. His father is waiting in the courtyard, talking with the dean. They stop as Phillip and his mother approach. His father glares at him, making Phillip stumble. If looks could kill.
The entire ride home is spent in heavy silence. Phillip knows he’ll pay for the embarrassment his father has gone through back home. In the meantime, he stares outside at the passing scenery, snow still covering nature around them. It looks so quiet, so peaceful. He wishes he could lay in it, let the cold numb every part of him to match the ice around his heart.
As predicted, the moment Phillip steps into the foyer, his father’s hand cracks across Phillip’s face, snapping his head to the side. His mother makes a small sound of pain in his stead. The next one is even harder than the first, but still, Phillip remains silent. He deserves this. Perhaps even welcomes it. His father raises his hand again.
“ Henry. ” his mother gasps, pleading. Her husband looks at her sharply, but lowers his hand, looking down at his son.
“Go to your room.” his father orders coldly, addressing Phillip for the first time.
Phillip obeys without protest.
This time, Phillip doesn’t even react to Doctor Palmer’s inquiries. Not even a nod or a shake of the head. He just remains motionless, silent. After a week at home, Phillip almost requires hospital treatment as he still cannot eat. Whenever he tries, it comes back out almost instantly. But much to everyone’s relief, Miss Eliza’s miracle soup –a recipe passed to her from her mother and her mother before her– ends up being the only food Phillip can stomach for weeks.
Miss Eliza overhears Doctor Palmer tell Mrs. Carlyle about the lack of progress with her son’s recovery, as he is not offering up any information as to what caused this relapse, nor is he reacting to the calming methods they used last time.
So, Miss Eliza waits until Doctor Palmer is alone to talk to him. She apologizes for her boldness, saying that she cares about Master Phillip and wishes to help. The doctor doesn’t scold her for speaking to him, even welcomes any kind of help. She tells him about a discovery she made about Phillip as she was cleaning his room shortly after he returned to school in January. Once again apologizing, she asks the doctor not to judge Phillip too harshly and promise to help him even in light of what she will tell him. Doctor Palmer frowns at the seriousness in Miss Eliza’s voice, and promises to abide to her requests. And so, Miss Eliza tells him how she found a box full of letters between Phillip and another boy. How they were of an amorous nature. The doctor’s eyebrows jump to his hairline at this new information on his patient. Miss Eliza continues, saying that Phillip’s spirits had lowered during the holidays, around the same time the letters had stopped coming. She had noticed it at the time, but hadn’t made the connection. Doctor Palmer thanks her, and, with new questions in mind, walks back towards Phillip’s room.
Doctor Palmer won’t be forgetting this session anytime soon. He had started with a blunt question.
“Do you feel attraction towards other boys, Phillip?”
Phillip’s eyes had snapped up towards his doctor. Wide, panicked eyes. Fearful. Unable to defend himself, to lie, Phillip’s mouth had opened and closed, words dying in his throat. Instead, a strangled whimper had fallen from his lips before shaking his head wildly.
“I know about the letters, Phillip.” the doctor had added.
Phillip had glanced at his wardrobe, and stood up then, rushing towards the door. Doctor Palmer had stood up as well, quickly blocking his way. “There’s no need to get agitated, Phillip. Your parents aren’t aware, nor will they be.”
Phillip had taken quick, unstable steps back, still shaking his head in denial, choked sounds making their way up his throat, wrapping his arms around himself, nails digging into his skin. The doctor had been quick to put a stop to that motion, internally sighing as he remembered the numerous times the boy had engaged in that mechanism in their past sessions, holding Phillip’s hands tightly in his as the boy had begun to hyperventilate.
“Calm down, deep breaths. Look at me. Phillip, look at me please.”
Phillip had looked up, eyes brimming with tears. Then he had broken down entirely, sinking into the doctor’s arms and sobbing loudly.
It had taken almost an hour to calm the boy down.
It takes another week for Doctor Palmer to coax answers out of Phillip. The head movements are shy and hesitant, and Phillip doesn’t meet the doctor’s eyes, but he’s answering nonetheless. He doesn’t quite believe the doctor when he tells Phillip he shouldn’t be ashamed of his feelings, that it only means he’s human. That he’s not abnormal. Just different. After a month, Phillip is able to keep down solid food. After another month, Phillip starts talking again. Small, monotone sentences, but Doctor Palmer tells the boy how proud of him he is nonetheless. Phillip doesn’t feel pride at the statement itself, but he does acknowledge the small flutter of warmth at the doctor’s sentiment. The doctor gives a new notebook to Phillip. Phillip is silently grateful, writing short stories in his notebook, etching drawings, pouring his emotions into them. It distracts him from his desire to write to William and beg for answers, for forgiveness. And yet, despite Doctor Palmer’s treatments, he still misses William and feels humiliated for it. He feels... cold. Not even the fire, nourished by William's letters, can warm him up.
Chapter 8: In Poetry Lies Experience
Warning for a little heated action, I suppose, but nothing too explicit~
In Poetry Lies Experience
Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, Phillip only experiences short term bouts of melancholia. They usually last a week, maybe a couple days more. He’s never exactly sure what causes them, but he now knows the signs well enough to alert his teachers of his upcoming absences. At first, they question those absences, but eventually, they stop asking. Phillip suspects his father or mother has sent word of his condition, in the vaguest way possible, naturally. However, Phillip receives frequent letters from his father stating his anger at Phillip’s continuous disruptive behavior. During those periods of silence, Phillip doesn’t eat. Sleep either evades him entirely, or he’ll rest for hours all throughout the day. He stays in bed, writes and draws, trying to organize his erratic thoughts, trying not to scratch his skin off to get rid of the crawling sensation over him. He doesn’t cry, not anymore. If others saw him cry, they would call him what he is: a pansy. A nancy-boy. A faggot. As if he isn’t enough of a freak as it is.
He continues to see Doctor Palmer during the holiday breaks, and sometimes Phillip will write to him, always receiving a response within a few days. They don’t necessarily talk about Phillip’s mental state, if Phillip doesn’t want to. They talk about other things, mundane or not.
At eighteen, he is accepted to a private university upstate, where he can start fresh. He tells himself he’ll make his father proud, this time. He’ll socialize, build connections, act normal.
For almost a year, he succeeds. He’s beginning to think that perhaps this is the solution to his illness.
And then, James Davis comes into his life.
James is another student from his economics class. He’s intelligent, charming and always nice to Phillip. And incredibly handsome. He and Phillip share the same social group, as well as the same literature interests. James plays the violin, often insisting on accompanying Phillip’s piano compositions. Phillip finds their conversations to be challenging, thoughtful, riveting . He doesn’t need to fake a smile when he’s talking with James. Getting James to look at him like he’s the only person in the room is something Phillip aims to do everyday. The way James’ eyes shine with interest stirs a feeling inside Phillip, one he cannot describe. Or rather, he refuses to. As the months pass, Phillip can no longer deny his growing affection for James. It pains him. He had sworn never to let himself enter this domain of hopeless sentiments again. Yet he can’t help it. James is perfect. He knows he is cursing himself into misery with these feelings, but the part of his heart that is still warm beats only for James, and it makes him feel alive. This, he doesn’t tell Doctor Palmer.
One Wednesday evening, during one of the Academy’s Poetry Club’s gatherings, Phillip is talking to James about the latest poem one of the scholars recited for the crowd. He's glad for the pleasant distraction of poetry, as he's been feeling slightly less focused these past couple of weeks. He blames it on his mounting confused feelings concerning his friend.
The throng of poetry amateurs quiets down as the next student steps onto the podium, reciting a poem from Robert Browning:
While I am I, and you are you,
So long as the world contains us both,
Me the loving and you the loth
While the one eludes, must the other pursue.
My life is a fault at last, I fear:
It seems too much like a fate, indeed!
Though I do my best I shall scarce succeed.
But what if I fail of my purpose here?
It is but to keep the nerves at strain,
To dry one's eyes and laugh at a fall,
And, baffled, get up and begin again,---
So the chace takes up one's life ' that's all.
While, look but once from your farthest bound
At me so deep in the dust and dark,
No sooner the old hope goes to ground
Than a new one, straight to the self-same mark,
I shape me---
The words echo through Phillip’s mind, making his heart beat faster. He glances over to James, sitting next to him, seemingly thinking about the poem. Is Phillip interpreting this poem the wrong way? But there are no wrong ideas in poetry.
Me the loving and you the loth
While the one eludes, must the other pursue.
Is comparing himself and William truly so far-fetched? Isn’t that what they were, in the end? Phillip pursuing a friendship, dare he say a love, that wasn’t there? He had had a long time to come to terms with the feelings of betrayal and heartbreak, but he knows that they remain rooted inside his heart, causing his hesitancy to open it to anyone else. He scolds himself for even thinking about the matter. It was so long ago. He was stupid and naive.
My life is a fault at last, I fear:
It seems too much like a fate, indeed!
Though I do my best I shall scarce succeed.
He knows it’s his fault, as this pattern has followed him for over a decade. He’s tried, and yet he remains forgotten. Who would want to waste their time with someone as worthless as him?
While, look but once from your farthest bound
At me so deep in the dust and dark
Phillip glances at James again, quickly ducking his head as he sees James observing him. He looks up again, and blushes at the look in James’ eyes: interest, curiosity, and something dark, an impulse Phillip hasn’t had the occasion to familiarize himself with. Phillip doesn’t want to linger on that last one. He’s surely just imagining it.
No sooner the old hope goes to ground
Than a new one, straight to the self-same mark,
I shape me---
He shouldn’t even dare to hope with James. It isn't right. He’s not a freak like Phillip. Even if he were, it would end the same way. After all, why wouldn’t it? Phillip is the one in the wrong here. When Phillip had made himself vulnerable by letting William see the real him, he had been burned, or rather, frozen. Humiliated. Broken. He doesn’t think he has any strength to stand back up should he be struck down again. And yet, a part of him, the innocent and hopeful part of him wants to let himself believe that he deserves a chance. That part of him is small and whispered, as opposed to the onslaught of continuous screams of warnings coming from the cold, fearful, angry, self-destructive part of him.
Phillip can’t take James’ heavy gaze on him another moment, feeling overwhelmed by the ongoing battle between feelings and memories in his head. He stands up, nevertheless graceful, and with a quick excuse to his companion about finding the lavatory, walks away. He does consider heading to the lavatory to splash some cold water on his face, but decides to seek some fresh air outside instead. The university campus is quiet at this time of the evening. The moon has risen, hiding behind thin clouds. The upstate air is as pure as always, if slightly brisk for the month of March. Phillip remains there for a while, eyes closed, leaning against a pillar on the entry porch, letting his thoughts quiet down.
“I was certain you’d left me for dead for a minute there, Carlyle.”
Phillip startles and whips around, finding James standing behind him, a playful smirk on his lips. Phillip is thankful for the dim light of the lantern above the door, as it hopefully prevents his blush from being seen.
“The thought had crossed my mind, Davis.” he replies in a mock-serious tone. “But then I fear you’d look upon me with disfavor.”
The two men stare at each other for a few seconds, before relaxing their postures and laughing.
“Phillip, you scoundrel.” James chides, stepping closer to stand next to Phillip. “What the devil are you doing out here anyway?”
Phillip huffs a laugh. “I needed a breather. The air was becoming too thick in that room.”
James raises an eyebrow, before taking out his cigarette case and matches. “I see. Don’t mind if I ruin your fresh air with mine, do you?”
Phillip gestures for him to go ahead. “I’ll tolerate it this time.” he replies with exaggerated haughtiness, to which James tsks as he lights up his hand-rolled cigarette.
“You’re too kind, your majesty.” he says as he inhales the smoke before blowing a ring towards Phillip’s face.
Phillip waves it away with a disgruntled look. But truly, he likes the smell of cigarettes. Or at least James’ brand of tobacco, perhaps. Whenever he smells someone else smoking it, it reminds him of James and the first time they talked. James had sat next to Phillip on one of the benches in the campus park, asking if they were in the same linguistics class. Phillip had answered that no, they weren’t, but that they did share an economics class. Phillip had been immediately captivated by his classmate’s figure, after all. That, he had kept to himself of course. From there, James had lit up a cigarette, and had started a long conversation with Phillip, even invited Phillip to join him and some other students for lunch, as he wanted to hear more of Phillip’s thoughts on Baudelaire.
“Phillip? Are you back with me?” James asks, making Phillip blink back to the present and raise his eyebrows questioningly. “I’ve called your name twice now.”
“My apologies.” Phillip says with an apologetic smile. “I was simply lost in thought.”
“As you often are.” James muses. “Not that I mind, on the contrary. It shapes your features rather innocently.”
“What is that even supposed to mean?” Phillip asks with a laugh, despite feeling slightly nervous.
“It means,” James starts, raising his free hand to trace a finger down Phillip’s temple, “that you have a nice face when you think.”
Phillip holds his breath as James’ index finger leaves a trail of warmth on his skin. He knows why he didn’t take a step back at the gesture, but he still loathes himself for it.
“Or anytime, really.” James continues, turning back to blow out smoke at the night sky. “You must leave quite a trail of broken hearts behind you, I'm sure.”
Phillip swallows thickly, willing his heart to calm down. He offers a smile, one he knows must come out as crooked. “Who do you take me for? I was raised a gentleman.”
James laughs loudly. “I don’t doubt it. But tell me, Phillip,” he continues, his voice taking a deeper tone, “even a gentleman such as yourself must have needs. Impulses. ”
Phillip’s jaw clenches. This is new territory between them. Phillip never partakes in those types of conversations among his peers. “I’d rather focus on my studies.” he answers neutrally.
James chuckles. “Is that so?” he asks rhetorically. “Or is it rather that you haven’t found anyone who shares your, shall we say, peculiar interests?”
Phillip is sure his heart is about to burst through his ribcage. He can’t be insinuating that he knows what Phillip is? Surely he would have told someone if he knew. Phillip would already be expelled, at the very least. But, what if James is like him? No, that can’t be. James is a good man, he can’t be an abnormality.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.” he replies stiffly, making James laugh.
“Relax, Phillip. You’re much too tense. Here.” He lifts his half-finished cigarette to Phillip’s lips. “It’ll do you some good.”
Phillip stares at the cigarette, then at James, and back to the cigarette. Isn’t the gesture slightly...indecent between two men? Nevertheless, he slowly parts his lips, letting James guide the stick to his mouth.
“Inhale.” he directs lowly. Phillip does, letting the smoke fill his mouth. This isn’t so bad. “Inhale again, and blow it out.” Phillip does as instructed, and promptly chokes as the smoke burns his lungs, making James chuckle and pat him on the back as he coughs. “There it is.”
“Christ.” Phillip croaks. “How do you enjoy this?”
Taking the last drag of his cigarette and throwing it on the ground, James shrugs. “Everything takes some getting used to, Phillip. Even the most uncomfortable acts can become pleasurable with enough practice.”
Phillip is thankful for the smoke in his lungs as his sharp intake of breath at the blatant innuendo is converted to a cough. He’s not naive on the knowledge of the sinful, but for it to be addressed almost openly is a different matter entirely. Why is James even discussing it?
“I think you have me mistaken, James.” Phillip says curtly, all too aware of James’ hand still on his back.
“Have I?” James’ tone tells Phillip he doesn’t think so. “Then tell me, Phillip, have you ever touched a woman? Or even wanted to?”
Phillip’s entire body heats up in embarrassment, both at the question and at the fact that no, he neither has nor wanted to.
Thankfully, the front door opens, a few students stepping out as they discuss their opinions of the evening. Phillip isn’t sure whether to be grateful or not to be ignored by other people right this moment. When the group is off the porch, James leans in.
“Come, let's go somewhere more private.” He takes Phillip’s hand, and before Phillip can protest, pulls him to the side of the house, through the almost pitch dark bushes, and onto a small terrasse behind the house. There is no light but the moon’s to illuminate Phillip’s prominent blush now.
“There. This is better, isn’t it?” James says, smirking, but releasing Phillip’s hand.
Phillip grips the fabric on the side of his trousers in nervousness, wanting to answer in the negative, but he finds himself too apprehensive to talk at all. He shivers.
“Are you feeling cold, Phillip?” James asks, not waiting for an answer before taking off his scarf and wrapping it around Phillip’s neck. “There we are.”
James is looking at him with no small amount of desire. Even Phillip can’t deny its existence anymore. It’s there, surely reflecting his own, and Phillip doesn’t know what to think of it. They’re so close, James’ hands still around the ends of the scarf, pulling Phillip closer and closer, until they are only inches apart. James tilts his head slightly, and kisses Phillip’s cheek chastely, making Phillip gasp almost inaudibly.
“James...” he whispers, the name sounding like a plea. For what, Phillip isn’t sure. He doesn’t have time to think rationally as James’ nose brushes his.
“Don’t fight who you are.” James says, his voice low and lustful. “ You’re perfect, Phillip. ”
He slowly presses his lips to Phillip’s.
It shamefully takes only a few seconds for Phillip to kiss him back, and from there, he is absolutely lost to these new and exotic sensations. When James’ hand comes up to cradle the back of his neck, Phillip gasps at the electrifying feeling on his skin, emitting a soft sound into the kiss. James takes the opportunity to greet Phillip’s tongue with his. Phillip reciprocates, and whereas he lacks experience, he makes up with enthusiasm. He can taste the cigarette smoke on James’ breath, but it doesn’t bother him. On the contrary, it entices him, fuels the metaphorical fire in his veins. Only when his back collides with the house’s wall does Phillip realize he needs to breathe. He breaks the kiss, inhaling deeply. He wants to tell James that they can’t do this, that the consequences would be dire for the both of them if someone knew. But one look into James’ dilated pupils, and Phillip is once again unable to protest when those warm, skillful lips are upon his once more, still slow and tentative. Not knowing what to do with his hands, he lets them support him against the wall, nails scratching at the bricks. This all feels so right, as it did with William– No! It’s better than with William. This time, James is confident in his acts, he can guide Phillip. He won’t leave. He won’t. Phillip is brought out of his musings by the painful sensation of his hair being pulled. He gasps, breaking the kiss. It hurts. And yet, it feels...good. Really good. The moan that escapes him surprises them both. Before Phillip can apologize, he is being kissed again. This time, the slow exploration lets way for a heat-fuelled act of passion. Phillip begins to feel his trousers tightening. As well as the scarf. Confused but otherwise occupied, he pays it no mind, until it becomes harder to breathe. His heart skips a beat, thinking that he is about to have another episode. It can’t happen. Not here, not now, not with James. He breaks the kiss again, but James doesn’t relent, tilting his head to kiss Phillip’s jawline. It’s at that point that Phillip realizes exactly what is happening. James is simply pulling at the scarf, enabling it to scratch at his throat and make his breathing harder.
“J-James–” Phillip gasps, only to be silenced by another kiss, slower this time. Somehow, the scarf tightens in sync with the movements of their lips.
The pressure on his Adam’s apple in now almost too much. Phillip brings his hands against James’ chest, ready to push him away, when a shuddering jolt of electricity traverses his entire body, straight down to his groin. He moans. What was that? A second later, James pulls at the scarf sharply. Another jolt, Phillip moans higher. James breaks the kiss this time, staring at Phillip with a new kind of curiosity.
“Well well, what do we have here?” he purrs, taking ahold of the scarf in a better grip. “You like this, Carlyle?” He gives it an experimental pull, making Phillip whimper in response, eyes closing again. James chuckles darkly. “Such a deviant you are.”
Phillip shakes his head as best as he can under the constriction. Why would he like the sensation of pain and choking? He’s had enough of that with his illness, he lives in fear of it. So why would he gain pleasure from it now? It’s crazy...isn’t it? Or, maybe, just maybe, he’s finally relieved to have someone he trusts be in control of this sensation. For once, it can stop whenever he wants it to. James would stop if he asked him to. He’s in control of himself, this time. And he chooses to give this control to James. It’s his choice, for once in his life!
His revelations are interrupted by his own voice, keening as James’ hand cups his crotch through his trousers.
“Your body says otherwise, pretty thing.” James states almost casually, giving him a squeeze.
Phillip can only whine and buck into the touch in response, making James smirk, one finger tracing a line over his hardened member, before resting at the hem of his trousers. “Who ever shall I listen to?” he asks innocently.
James loosens his grip on the scarf, making Phillip gasp in a breath. His eyes remain closed, head and body leaning against the wall.
“P-Please, I–” don’t want this feeling to stop –“I want…”
“Tell me what you want, Phillip.” James demands, his finger teasing the fabric of his undergarments.
“I want– I want y-your touch. A-Around me...” Around my throat, around my body. Phillip can feel his body heat up at his own words and thoughts, in embarrassment and desire.
“Then you’ll have it, my beautiful Phillip.” James declares, before dipping his entire hand down Phillip’s pants, and taking ahold of his cock.
Phillip’s resulting whine is high and broken, and then absorbed by a pair of eager lips on his. Phillip answers with as much energy, if clumsily, as he is distracted by the divine sensation of James’ hand beginning to move and oh, Lord, it’s gloriously sinful. But he wants more, he wants–
Phillip breaks the kiss to tilt his head back, bearing his throat to James, who chuckles.
“Needy, aren’t you?” But nonetheless, he pulls the scarf away, and wraps his free hand around Phillip’s already irritated throat. He squeezes, Phillip moans in bliss.
It only takes a few strokes and expertly applied pressure to make Phillip tip over the edge with a staggered whine.
Phillip is still catching his breath, blissed and slumped against the wall, when James hums to get his attention. Phillip turns his head to the left, to where James is leaning right next to him. James hands him his already lit cigarette, which Phillip accepts with shaking hands. He takes a few puffs, coughing less than before.
“Now,” James starts, pushing himself off the wall and extending a hand for Phillip to take, his tone turning seductive once more, “why don’t we head over to my dorm, so I can show you what kind of deviant I am?”
Phillip finds himself nodding before his mind can fully register the question.
Chapter 9: The Mind Leads The Spirit
Again, heated moments but nothing too explicit.
Also, confusing times ahead!
The Mind Leads The Spirit
Phillip hadn’t quite known what to expect. He had let himself be laid down on James’ bed, his clothes stripped from him little by little. His nervousness had been brimming, the shame of his own body enough to leave him blushing from head to toe. But James had looked at him with such reverence, with such intense desire, that Phillip had not resisted in the slightest when the other man had parted his legs. He had still been trembling, both in anticipation and in uneasiness. But Phillip had then expected the same bliss James had risen from him earlier.
But now, now it hurts. It’s invasive. He feels uncomfortably vulnerable. James’ fingers had already felt too large, too rough even with the generous amount of oil coating them. But Phillip had willed away the tears threatening to fall, and is now somewhat glad for it as James is telling him over and over again how perfect and beautiful he is as he thrusts inside Phillip at a rapid pace, their hips snapping together. Phillip wishes he could go faster, to get it over with. He’s too unsure about whether he likes this or not to want it to last any longer. The euphoria and confidence from earlier are wearing off, letting way to doubts and anxiety. The hand on his throat, at least, is tight and grounding. And there are sparks of pleasure erupting inside of him, every now and then, making him temporarily forget the discomfort of being taken by a man. But that man is James. He trusts James. He wants James to feel pleasure with him. And judging by his approving groans, he takes pleasure in Phillip’s moans and whines, even if they are muffled by the mattress against which his face is pushed down. The pace changes, becoming erratic. The occasional bouts of pleasure stop entirely for Phillip, who grips the sheets even tighter than before, trying to focus on his limited air supply instead of the pain of each thrust. Worry takes ahold of him as he feels his cock softening. He hopes James doesn’t see it. Is this supposed to happen? Then, with a loud groan above him, the pace stops abruptly. Phillip feels a new kind of heat filling him, then sliding down his trembling thighs. After a couple minutes during which Phillip daren’t make a sound, James pulls out of him with a sigh. Phillip collapses just as James lays down next to him, finally able to breathe properly. He pulls the cover over himself self-consciously while James lights up a cigarette.
When James says nothing, Phillip clears his sore throat.
“That was... I mean, it was good, wasn’t it? For you?” He winces at the ridicule of his question.
“Mm?” James glances at him. "Oh, yeah. Yeah, it was good. For you?”
“O-Of course. It was great!” Phillip stammers out, shifting to make sure his unspent cock is well hidden, as well as the lack of proof of peaked pleasure.
“Alright.” James says, eyes closed and seemingly not really paying attention.
After another couple minutes of silence, Phillip begins to fidget nervously. What happens now? Why doesn’t he feel as relaxed as James seems to be? Maybe it’s normal the first time? There’s a nagging feeling coiling in his gut that he is trying to ignore. Phillip wants to shift closer to James, to feel as he did when this started: loved, wanted, practically worshipped. The words James had used as he had seen Phillip’s body for the first time… they had been mesmerizing. They had made him feel normal. No, not normal; special . He wants to be kissed again, to be made to feel like the only person in James’ world. Surely, after what they just did, Phillip should be able to kiss his… partner? And so, Phillip leans in, and kisses James timidly. James looks at him with an indecipherable look.
“What was that?” he asks, his tone almost a drawl. It makes Phillip hesitate.
“Consider it a small token of affection.” Phillip says with a forced smile, trying to bring back their easy banter.
James lets out a long sigh. “That’s the problem with you virgins. One simple roll in the hay later, and you turn into simpering women.”
That feeling in his gut tightens. What is James saying?
“What, um, what do you mean–” Phillip begins, gasping softly as he tries and fails to sit up, pain flaring up in his lower regions.
“Welcome to adulthood, Phillip.” James says nonchalantly, sitting up with ease. He stands up and stretches his arms above his head before looking back at Phillip. “I had hoped for this to happen much sooner, if only you had understood my suggestions. That tight hole of yours was somewhat worth the extra work I invested, I suppose.”
A wave of frozen water washes over Phillip. He stares at James with what must be confusion and something akin to fear and horror at the words that have left his friend’s mouth. The pain doesn’t bother him when he manages to sit up this time. Or rather, he ignores it, focusing on the emotional one. Is James even his friend at all? Has he ever been? Was he–
“Were you just using me, then?” Phillip asks, voice strained but clear. Were we never friends? He needs to remain calm. He needs clarity. Surely, James didn’t just befriend Phillip for this purpose. That’s ridiculous. Isn’t it?
James looks at him with an expression of condescending pity. “I wouldn’t put it so crudely, Phillip.” he says, taking his clothes from the chair to dress himself. “But if you must know, I had a feeling from the moment I saw you, on that bench, that you were in need of a good fucking. I think it was the eyes. They’re quite expressive.” He turns back to Phillip, and sighs at his crestfallen expression. “A word of advice, Carlyle. Shed that naivety you live by as soon as you can. You’ll be a better man for it.”
Phillip doesn’t respond. He doesn’t know what to say, how to feel, as though his brain has stopped processing his thoughts. Overwhelmed , is a word his doctor often uses to describe him. He’s distantly aware of that information, as well as the odd fact that he isn’t having difficulties breathing, not does he want to cry or scream, or even run away to hide. He’s just… there.
"I certainly wouldn't mind fooling around some more with you, given you develop some maturity about it." James continues casually, shrugging when Phillip remains quiet and seemingly lost. "Suppose not, then. Shame." He finishes getting dressed.
“I’m going out.” James declares, bringing Phillip’s focus back on the man to whom he made himself most vulnerable. “Be a dear and show yourself out before I come back, will you?”
James closes the door behind him, leaving Phillip alone. Staring blankly at his covered lap, he scratches his arm absent-mindedly. He should get dressed, shouldn’t he? He has to go back to his dorm, wash up –if there is any water left. He slowly stands up, feeling his limbs ache. He proceeds to methodically slip his clothes back on, and without a backwards glance, exits James’ dorm, a limp to his walk.
As he steps outside, he notes how quiet it is, excluding the criquets. The stars are bright and shining in the night sky. He then notices how he seems to be walking on air, feeling light as a feather as opposed to the heaviness he had expected to carry. That’s good, isn’t it? Perhaps he’s finally overcome his affliction, has matured enough to control himself, contrary to what James said. After all, why wouldn’t he have? He’s not a boy anymore, he should have stopped acting like one years ago. The pain in his lower back is gone, too. Maybe now he can become a proper son, to make his mother and father proud. Yes, this is the time he will function normally. No more shame, no more illness. Why was it even there in the first place? He can’t remember. It mustn't have been important if he can’t remember. What were his symptoms again? He can’t remember those either. Speaking of, why was he even upset earlier? If he can’t remember, it can’t have mattered. That’s right. Now, where’s his nanny? She should have picked him up by now. He stops in his tracks. It’s cold. Wait, what is he thinking? He’s at his university. He’s seventeen– no, eighteen. He's going home. Fourteen? He has a three-page paper to hand in tomorrow.
What had Doctor Palmer said again?
He shuts his eyes quickly as they are blinded by the light. He opens them hesitantly a few seconds later. There are trees around him. A clearing. Large trees, with matching shadows cast by the sun. Grass, rocks, pinecones, and water . Looking down, he realizes he’s standing waist deep in freezing water. He feels it dripping from his hair, too. He sees his shirt ripped at the sleeves, revealing bloody scratch marks all along his arms. What happened? This isn’t the university park. Where is he? How did he get here? Wasn’t it near midnight a second ago? What’s happening? Why can’t he remember?! What’s wrong with him?!
Phillip is not standing in water anymore. He’s still drenched, rain pouring down from the thick grey clouds, thunder resounding from miles away. The trees around him are still imposing in height, but less suffocating. What happened to the clearing? Where is he now? It wasn’t raining before, was it? He must be dreaming. This is a dream. But the rain feels so real. He looks down, his trembling arms are covered in dirt and what must be left of the blood from…a minute ago? His stomach is cramping violently, his throat dry as a desert. He feels sudden exhaustion, making his legs buckle. He falls to his knees, the mud softening his landing. It’s not just mud, however. It’s a road. A clear road where the trees part to make way for travellers. It must lead to somewhere, to civilization. Where is he? How did he change locations multiple times in a minute? He doesn’t understand, it isn’t possible. He must be dreaming. This is a dream, a nightmare. The pain all over his body is only his imagination. He’s in bed, in his dorm, waiting to wake up to head to class. Wake up, Carlyle. Come on, wake up! A sob escapes his chapped lips. This can’t be real. He’s lost his sanity. He wants to go home. He doesn’t want to die out here. Don’t you?
The rain has stopped. It’s night time. He’s laying on the ground, it smells of wet dirt. His body aches. He closes his eyes, unwilling to see where he is now, what his damaged mind has come up with this time. But this time, there are voices around him. He doesn’t recognize them. What are they saying?
Does it even matter? None of this is real. It’s not real, it can’t be. He’s not crazy. He’s normal. He can be normal. He has to be.
Breathe, Phillip , is what Doctor Palmer had said.
Chapter 10: Don't Blink
The walls are grey around him, the ceiling high and the air musty. This isn’t his dorm, yet he feels a mattress under his sore body. His upper body is propped up, but he cannot move. He whimpers, the sound getting stuck in his parched throat. Where is he now? He doesn’t recognize this place either. Why can’t he move? Someone please make it stop, please please –
“Are you awake, Phillip?”
Phillip snaps his head to the side, ignoring the pain of the movement. He knows that voice!
“Doctor Palmer, h–” he interrupts himself with a coughing fit, and that’s when Phillip realizes his limbs are restricted.
A glass of water is pushed against his lips. “Drink.” Doctor Palmer orders softly. Phillip doesn’t protest, parting his lips to welcome the much needed liquid. “Easy there, not too fast.”
Doctor Palmer pulls the glass back, setting it back on the bedside table.
“Where am I?” Phillip asks quickly, afraid he will be gone again anytime now. “How did I get here? What’s happening–”
“Calm down, Phillip.” Doctor Palmer instructs with a calmness Phillip does not feel. “You’re in a hospital.”
Uncertain relief floods over Phillip. A hospital. He's in a hospital room, with Doctor Palmer at his side. A hospital is good. Nothing can happen to him here. Right? But what if this is a dream, and he’s still God knows where? How is Doctor Palmer even here? Doubt must show in his eyes, for his doctor lays a hand on his bandaged arm.
“I assure you, you are safe here.” he reassures, adjusting his notepad on his lap. “Can you tell me the last thing you remember?”
“I…” Phillip starts, unsure. Was any of it real? “I was– I don’t know, I-I was walking to my dorm, then I was i-in a pond, in a forest, then s-somewhere else, I don’t– I don’t know what’s happening, I don’t know h-how to stop it, I–” he chokes, panic rising, shutting his eyes tightly. “I don’t know what’s real, I–” he whimpers. Please help me!
“Phillip, look at me. Look at me.” Doctor Palmer orders sternly. Phillip does, eyes wide and bright with unshed tears. “You’re going to be alright. I’ll be right here to help you. Breathe with me.”
Phillip takes a deep, shuddering breath, nodding a few times in understanding before following his doctor’s breathing. He knows how to do this, they’ve done it together many, many times before. When Phillip has calmed down enough to breathe on his own, Doctor Palmer helps him to drink more water. Then he clears his throat.
“Phillip,” he starts softly, “You’re an adult now. So I’m going to tell you what happened, according to the information and observations I’ve gathered. Then I will inform you of my diagnostic. But I need you to remain calm throughout, can you do that for me?”
Phillip nods, hands clenching into the sheets. The doctor observes him for a couple seconds, and nods as well.
“Alright. As I understand it, you’ve found yourself in places you can’t remember going to. Am I also correct in assuming that you’ve experienced these changes in scenery within a short period of time?” Phillip nods. “How much time do you feel has passed since you were walking to your dorm?”
“A-About ten minutes,” Phillip answers hesitantly, knowing it isn’t possible. Doctor Palmer writes it down.
“Phillip, you were last seen on Wednesday evening. A young couple in a carriage found you on the side of the road Saturday night, about twenty-five miles south of your school. Today is Monday.”
Panic ignites in Phillip’s veins, hot as fire and cold as ice. How it that possible? How–
“How can I not remember?” he asks in a whisper. “I can’t– I…”
“Remember what I said, Phillip.” Doctor Palmer reminds him, sliding his hand up to squeeze Phillip’s shoulder. Phillip bites his lip, nodding for the doctor to continue. “What happened while you wandered off, no one but your subconscious knows. We can assume the state of your arms is self-inflicted. The rest, we will try to uncover with time.” He flips a page of his notebook up, reading his previous notes. “According to the passers-by who found you, you were mostly catatonic, occasionally blurting nonsensical sentences. However, you happened to mention me more than a couple of times, which is how the general hospital knew to find me.” He pauses. “Phillip, what you experienced is called a dissociative episode, which is your mind acting up from overwhelming factors and fighting them. Throughout the years, you’ve showed some signs of dissociative behavior such as fainting and mentally retreating in reaction to duress, which are often symptoms in patients suffering from melancholia. But it’s never been this severe in your case. Which is why we’ve taken preventive measures to keep you safe.”
Phillip can feel his heart quicken again. He's always been like this? That can't be right. He would have known. You've forgotten, because you dissociated. Nothing is real– He frowns, looking down at his restraints, then back up at the grey, sterile walls. Ice begins to spread inside his chest.
“What kind of hospital is this?” his voice cracks as he dreads the answer.
Doctor Palmer sighs, squeezing his shoulder again. “You’ve been admitted to an asylum for the mentally unstable. It’s for the best, until further notice.”
A whimper passes through his lips. An asylum. No, no, why is he here? He shouldn’t be here, he’s not insane. He can’t be…
“Am I…” he starts quietly, forcing the panic down, “I thought I was cured, I thought– I'm...I'm still deranged?”
At Phillip’s resigned tone, the doctor settles his hand in Phillip’s hair. It’s unprofessional, he knows, but that line had been crossed a long time ago, ever since Phillip had cried in his arms for the first time at the vulnerable age of thirteen.
“You’re not deranged, Phillip.” Doctor Palmer says softly. “You’re one of the brightest young men I’ve ever met. But sometimes, being bright comes with the price of being too aware, which leads to being–”
“‘Overwhelmed’.” Phillip finishes with a sigh, repeating the word he’s heard all too often. He’s not sure he believes it anymore. Don't panic, don't panic. “I know.”
“This doesn’t define you.” the doctor declares sternly. “You will get better.”
“You’ve been saying that for years, Doctor Palmer.” Phillip retorts, his despair coming out as bitterness. “I only seem to worsen by the year. Perhaps you should consider throwing in the towel on my case.” They all do, after all.
The hand in Phillip’s hair shifts, a sad smile playing at Doctor Palmer's lips. “If you don’t mind, I’d rather continue.”
Phillip looks down, tears silently slide down his pale cheeks. The doctor remains quiet, letting Phillip recompose himself.
“My–” Phillip clears his throat, still staring at his lap. “My parents, do they know?”
“They’ve been informed.” Doctor Palmer answers neutrally, letting his hand fall back to his side. “They’re the ones who’ve arranged for a private room during your stay here. They should be on their way as we speak.”
Phillip’s grip on the sheets tightens, shutting his eyes as his body tenses. It sends a jolt of pain through his lower back and hips. With a silent gasp, the reality of Wednesday’s events finally come crashing back. What he’s done. What he shamed himself in doing. What if his parents find out?
“Phillip?” the doctor calls out gently. “Don’t you want to see your mother?” He’s aware of how close Phillip and his mother used to be a few years ago, how much that woman cares about her son. Carlyle Sr, however, is another story. He can’t tell the man how to treat his son, it’s not his place nor will he risk being sent away from his patient. But from what Phillip had told him, and from what he’d personally seen, Henry Carlyle holds a large amount of contempt and shame for his son. Doctor Palmer is still convinced the Carlyle patriarch had had a hand in Phillip’s sudden ‘recovery’ a decade ago, and not in a positive way.
He watches the young man as he bites his lip again, trying to keep it from trembling, eyes still shut. Phillip parts his dry lips, before closing them again, breathing deeply.
“I’ve done... something.” Phillip whispers, almost inaudible if the room wasn’t deadly quiet. Don't say anything! He doesn't want to admit to what he’s done. It’s… vile. He’s vile. “Something foul and... deplorable.” Quiet!
Doctor Palmer raises an eyebrow at the vagueness of Phillip’s statement. “Do you think your mother would be disappointed if she knew?”
Phillip lets out a hollow laugh that sounds more like a sob than anything else.
“'Disappointed' would be an understatement. I think even you would share her sentiment, Doctor Palmer.” Phillip says, frowning as his voice sounds distant. He opens his eyes, turning his head to look at the doctor.
The chair is empty.
Phillip startles with a gasp. No, no – Not again! Doctor Palmer had told him he’d be safe here! Wasn't it supposed to have stopped? How long has passed? Why did the doctor leave? Have his parents come? Have they seen him during another one of his episodes? What if he revealed something shameful? What if no one comes for him again? He’s alone. How will he know when he loses time again? He’s on his own. He’s alone, always alone, abandoned–
A man he doesn’t recognize is changing his bandages. Who is he? How long has passed this time? God, when will it stop? Why won't it stop ?!
“Phillip, are you with me?” Doctor Palmer asks, back in his chair. His tone is worried, and he’s wearing different clothes now. When did he come back? Did he ever leave? “Don’t forget to breathe.”
Breathe? How can he breathe when he doesn’t even dare to blink? What if this never stops? What if he can never control himself and his life passes by in the literal blink of an eye?
Would it be so bad?
What if he blinks and death is there to greet him next time?
Wouldn't death mean relief for your turmoils? Would it be so bad to finally have relief?
His scream reverberates throughout the asylum.
Chapter 11: One Tear A Day Won’t Keep The Doctor Away
One Tear A Day Won’t Keep The Doctor Away
Next time Phillip opens his eyes, he knows he has been asleep, the feeling of grogginess like a relief to his senses. His limbs and eyes feel heavy, slow to respond. He knows where he is, but he doesn’t know how long he’s been here. Has he been cured? Is it over?
“I’m sorry, Phillip, we haven’t discussed any treatments yet.” Doctor Palmer’s soft voice pierces through the fog in Phillip’s mind. He hadn’t realized he had spoken out loud.
Phillip turns his head slowly to his right, eyes meeting his doctor’s. No words are exchanged for a couple minutes, as Phillip wonders whether this is real or not.
“How long..” he whispers, trailing off as he feels his tongue too heavy to function properly.
“You’ve been asleep for over a day.” Doctor Palmer informs him. “The head nurse saw it fit to administer a sedative to keep you from hurting yourself. And probably to stop you from screaming as well. You were in quite an agitated fit. Do you remember any of it?”
Phillip shrugs, not wanting to think further on the fact that he was drugged to be silenced. He does remember the panic and fright, the feeling of being lost and helpless. He remembers being told what’s been happening to him. But other than that, his mind draws a blank, which doesn’t ease his fears. “What if it never stops?” he asks softly, the crack in his voice indicating his despair. “What if I keep… dissociating ?”
Doctor Palmer sighs. “I won’t lie to you, there is that possibility.” Phillip bites down a whimper. “But you’ve always conquered your episodes, however different, before. I believe you can conquer these ones as well.”
A moment of silence passes, in which Phillip looks no more hopeful than before.
“Can you tell when I’m…” he trails off, feeling ridiculous, his brain clearing from the remnants of the sedative.
“I’ve witnessed a few patients experiencing dissociation during my career. While everyone differs slightly, there is always the tell-tale of constricted pupils.”
“And did I… do I do or say anything, while I’m...gone?” he finishes with a whisper.
The doctor leans back in his chair, notepad at the ready. “Thankfully, you are still responsive when it comes to chewing and swallowing the food you are fed, otherwise we would have had a problem. As to what you say, it's mostly odd sentences showing your mind's confusion, or absolute silence. When is the last moment you can recall clearly? What were we talking about?”
“I think… we were talking about my parents being on their way.” Phillip says, deciding not to mention what he had started to reveal. “Then you were suddenly g-gone, there was a nurse, and you were back with d-different clothes, and now…” He looks at the doctor’s attire, it’s different from last time too.
“Breathe, Phillip.” the doctor advises. “So you don’t remember telling me about what you had done at the university?” In truth, he knows Phillip is omitting, trying to keep a secret Doctor Palmer feels is very much relevant to this new development in his patient’s illness. The university part is a gamble, a logical deduction, as Phillip has been spending all his time there. Seeing Phillip flinch is confirmation of that. He had not said anything after he had expressed his belief that both he and his mother would disappointed in him.
“Please don’t make me talk about it.” Phillip requests pleadingly. “I-I fear I’ll lose my mind again. Just– Forget I mentioned anything.”
“Alright.” Doctor Palmer agrees, not wanting Phillip to get agitated again. “We’ll get back to the subject another time. For now, let’s discuss treatment.”
Phillip visibly relaxes, if only minutely.
“I’ll agree to anything, Doctor.” Phillip states tiredly, letting his eyes fall close.
“Don’t let the other doctors hear you say this, Phillip.” Doctor Palmer retorts, tone light. “One of the lobotomists might want to try their new toys on you.”
The comment is meant to be playful, a usually well-received joke among psychiatrists who consider the idea of lobotomy appalling, but Phillip doesn’t respond, his shoulders slumping instead.
“I was only joking, Phillip.” the doctor backtracks. “I would never let that happen.”
Phillip’s eyes remain closed.
“Would it be such a bad idea?” he asks, almost too quiet for the doctor to hear. Almost.
Doctor Palmer isn’t a squeamish man, by far, but the image of Phillip with his skull pierced sends him into a nauseated state.
“Now why would you ask that?” he forces his voice to remain steady and calm for his patient’s sake. He won’t snap at the boy by ordering him never to mention the idea again, it will do neither of them any good. Instead he’ll inquire the reasoning behind Phillip’s grave suggestion.
But Phillip doesn’t answer, letting out a shaky sigh instead, a loose tear slipping down his cheek.
Doctor Palmer’s heart aches at the sight.
“Phillip,” he starts softly, “I’ve known you since you were but a young boy. Apart from the obvious, I know when something is troubling you. You can tell me.”
Phillip swallows thickly before slowly opening his eyes, looking away from the doctor.
“I’m scared, Doctor.” he admits quietly, a tremor to his voice. He blames the sedative for his literal and metaphorical loose tongue. “I’m… I have these thoughts…” he pauses, hesitant. “They’re absurd thoughts.”
“If they scare you, then they aren’t absurd, Phillip.” Doctor Palmer tells him.
Phillip inhales shakily. “I’ve had them for years, but I ignored them, discarded them as nothing but a child’s tantrum. But now, they invade my every waking thought, I can’t– I can’t make them stop.”
When Phillip doesn’t continue, clenching his restrained fists in the sheets, the doctor prompts him, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“What thoughts do you have, Phillip?”
Phillip closes his eyes again just as twin tears fall from them.
“I– I sometimes wish I had never been born. I–” his voice cracks. “I wish I could just… stop everything– N-Never w-wake–" A choked sob ends his declaration. The restraints on his wrists shake as he tries to hide himself, the prevented movement making the metal cuffs clink against the bed frame.
Doctor Palmer sets his notepad down on the bedside table, leaning forward to undo Phillip’s restraints, taking ahold of Phillip’s right hand, letting the left lift towards his tear stricken face. He doesn’t need further clarification on what Phillip is trying to convey.
“We’ll get you through this, Phillip.” Doctor Palmer says softly but determinedly, squeezing his hand. “I promise. We'll talk about treatment tomorrow.”
Phillip cries into his hand, until exhaustion claims him, at which point Doctor Palmer reapplies the restraints and stands up. He watches Phillip sleep for a little while, taking in his peaceful-looking features, which contradict his inner torments. He brushes a stray lock from his face, sighing fondly at the small, childlike noise Phillip emits.
He’ll make his– the boy well again. He has to. He also has to write back to Eliza, before she gets cross with him.
Phillip wakes up to the soft sound of paper. The sight that greets his swollen eyes both relieves him and pulls at his heart in shame. His mother sits by his bed, reading a book, basked in the soft morning light shining through the small barred window.
“Mother.” he greets, startling her. Nevertheless, she looks up at him with bright eyes, smiling at him immediately. The bags under her eyes don't escape Phillip's notice.
“Phillip,” she breathes in relief, setting her equipment down to take his hand instead, “my sweet boy.”
Phillip doesn’t know what to tell her. He realizes how her gentle words don’t soothe him as they used to. They don’t sadden him either. He’s simply numb to them. He wishes to apologize, to beg for forgiveness at yet another one of his failures. He wants her to know it’s not her fault he is this way, and to advise her to stop wasting her time and love on him. He doesn’t deserve it, after all.
“How are you feeling, darling mine?” she asks him in a manner that is so familiar it pains him.
“I am simply tired.” Phillip answers with a sigh. He can’t say anything else, he won’t. The burden of his condition is his only to bear. He doesn’t dare ask her how she fares in return. He knows he is the reason why she looks so deplenished, eyes sunken and worried. “Have you been here long?”
“I wish I could have come at an earlier time.” she answers regretfully, squeezing his hand.
Her statement, ignoring his actual question, only stirs further shame inside Phillip. She too doesn’t dare to reveal information in fear of upsetting him. She shouldn’t have to, but Phillip and his illness have made it so. Is there a worse son than him?
“Is Father here?” Phillip asks, unwilling to push the previous subject. He can hear the hope in his own voice, the desperate edge of desire for his father’s reassurance and encouragement. Even after all these years, he cannot seem to let go of that need for approval. Stupid of him.
His mother's posture changes, shoulders tensing. She looks away only briefly, as if to compose herself. When her eyes meet Phillip's again, there is careful neutrality in them.
"Your father, he could not make the journey." she explains with a clipped tone. "He is a hard-working businessman, you must understand. Still, he sends his best wishes for your recovery, and will attempt to visit you at the first opportunity."
Her tone is rehearsed, Phillip hears it. He knows it, he's heard it before, and he's used it himself.
"I understand. Please thank him for me." His own voice is just as monotone.
Phillip and Catherine Carlyle share a silent look, both understanding what the head of the Carlyle estate's absence had truly meant to convey.
'As long as you are ill, you are no son of mine.'
After that, the subject is dropped. They shift their conversation towards neutral subjects such as Phillip’s studies, what he thinks of his professors, and if he’s had any inspiration for a future career. That last one sends a pang of bitterness inside Phillip, as he remembers his eighteenth’s birthday, his father telling him he will be expected to follow in his footsteps after university. Phillip doesn’t know what he wants to do in his life, he can’t seem to see that far ahead. But he knows he doesn’t want to be involved in his father’s business; making money, crushing rivals, making more money on the back of hard-workers, that’s not how he wants to live. Yet, he had only nodded at his father’s declaration. Phillip succeeds in keeping his expression neutral when his mother hesitantly asks about any friends he’s made. Why would anyone wish to befriend me? Among the many letters Phillip has sent her, he’s never mentioned James, too afraid of accidentally giving himself and his confused – repulsive – emotions away. He evades the question with another subject, asking her about the book she was reading earlier. She smiles sadly at him, but Phillip doesn’t correct her in her probable assumption that once again her son is unable to socialize normally. He’d rather have her believing this than finding out the disgusting truth.
Half an hour later, after seeing her stifle a couple of yawns, Phillip tells her he is tired. It’s not a lie, he is exhausted, but mainly he wants her to get some rest, away from him. Her eyes soften in understanding, bless her heart. Again, she is thinking of him and his health. Doesn’t she understand he’s hopeless?
“I will come back tomorrow.” she declares. "Is that alright, sweetheart?” The look she gives him is hopeful, but Phillip sees the underlying exhaustion and nervous glint in it. She doesn’t enjoy seeing her son like this, tied to an asylum bed. Phillip understands this, but what he doesn’t understand is why she forces herself to endure this, for him. He’s not worth it.
“Mother,” he starts, throat constricting, “perhaps you should… consider father’s opinion.”
She tilts her head in question. “What opinion?”
Phillip wills his heartbeat to remain calm. “About… this hospital.” He doesn’t want to say it.
“What about this hospital? Are you not comfortable here?” she asks with a confused frown. “Speak your mind.”
Phillip sighs shakily. “The hospital is fine. But...perhaps you shouldn’t have to see it again.”
“What do you mean, Phillip? I don’t understand.” Her tone has sharpened. He’s worrying her.
“I don’t think you should come here anymore, Mother.” he grits out.
He doesn’t dare to look at her, to see her crestfallen expression. Coward .
“Phillip,” she starts softly, “why shouldn’t I?”
“I don’t–” he bites his tongue. I don’t deserve you here. “I want to be alone.”
“‘Alone’?” she repeats, concern lacing her voice. “But sweetheart, you–”
“Please, Mother.” he cuts in, unwilling to hear her arguments, knowing he’d be too weak to counter them. “Go back home. I’ll get better soon, and everything will be n-normal again.”
The silence that follows makes Phillip wish he could have access to his nails. There’s something crawling on his skin that needs to be scratched.
“Phillip.” his mother eventually whispers him, voice small and uncertain. “Do you not wish to see me?”
Of course I want to! I’m terrified! I want my mother with me! He can’t tell her that. Who is he to selfishly beg for her to stay by his side while he tries to heal, again ? She’s sacrificed enough for him. She deserves peace of mind, and she can’t achieve it if he continues to torment her with his pathetic state. So does Phillip not wish to see her? No, he doesn’t, only in order to protect her sanity, and be able to once again stand proud in front of her when all of this is over.
If it ever will be.
The word, so wrong on his tongue, pulls at every inch of his insides, sending ice straight to his heart. The sensation has become familiar, but no less painful. He still doesn’t look at her, blinking tears away. When she says nothing, Phillip clears his throat, resolve cracking. Maybe he shouldn’t be so curt. He should at least say something reassuring to her, tell her Doctor Palmer is taking good care of him. He should tell her he loves her. God only knows when he’ll see her again. So he lifts his eyes, forcing a small smile on his lips.
She’s gone. The room is painted in an orange glow.
Panic grips at him. He dissociated again. His mother is gone. He couldn’t tell her anything but the one cold rejecting word. She’s gone and he didn’t get to say goodbye. She’s gone and he won’t see her for– Never again, if you die here.
Chapter 12: Trial And Error
Trial And Error
“How are you feeling today, Phillip?”
Phillip sighs softly, observing a sparrow through the window as it gathers twigs for its nest on a nearby tree. His stay at the hospital has just reached its first month, and despite being allowed out of bed during the day –under observation– he feels no less trapped and anxious. His dissociative episodes continue to torment him, if perhaps with less frequency. Doctor Palmer comes in everyday, and they try different types of calming exercises. Breathing. Positive thinking. Counting from one to ten and back. They barely work. Phillip internally huffs at this 'treatment', as well as shoves down his despair at its ineffectiveness and at the thought that he won't be cured anytime soon if nothing else can be done. Doctor Palmer also asks him questions, writing everything down. He asks him the same questions everyday.
‘How are you feeling today? Is there anything you want to talk about? How can I help you if you won’t tell me what’s on your mind, Phillip?’
He doesn’t see the point in them. He’s sunken too low to crawl back up anyway, hasn’t he? With each passing day, he struggles more and more to visualize any kind of future for himself. He’s mentally defective, no matter how the doctor tries to convince him otherwise. And he’s a sodomite. Phillip is not a religious man, but, in the moments he chooses to entertain the idea of the existence of a higher power, he wonders why God would have created him in this way. Flawed. Broken. A sinner by nature.
“I received word from your mother this morning.”
Phillip flinches mentally, glancing at Doctor Palmer’s reflection in the window.
“She is well?” Phillip asks quietly, still staring at the little bird outside. He envies it for its freedom, as, unlike him, it’s never been locked in any kind of cage.
“She worries.” Doctor Palmer answers simply, crossing his legs casually. “She’s asked of me to make a request to you on her behalf.” When Phillip doesn’t pry, he continues. “Why have you still not permitted her to visit you?”
Phillip almost scoffs bitterly. He was much colder towards his mother than how the doctor portrays him to have been.
“This isn’t a suitable environment for those who don’t belong here.” he states neutrally.
“Very thoughtful of you.” Doctor Palmer says, standing up from his chair to join Phillip by the window. “Now, how about you answer the question again. Truthfully, this time.”
Phillip finally tears his gaze away from the calming sight of nature at its peak, only to stare down at the dust gathering on the ledge of the window. He doesn’t answer. Doctor Palmer sighs.
“Alright, so I’ll answer for you.” he says, now standing right next to Phillip. “You’re afraid of what she’ll think of you.” He observes as Phillip clenches his fists by his sides for only half a second. He’s already hitting a nerve. Good. “You’re afraid she’ll stop loving you, because of something you did. You fear she’ll become like your father, and you will lose a mother. It is the same reason why you won’t tell me what you must have gathered was the catalyst to this new form in your illness, because you’re afraid I’ll think negatively of you–”
“I don’t care what you think of me! I’m not afraid!” Phillip finds himself shouting unexpectedly, startled at his own outburst, turning to glare at Doctor Palmer. Something inside him ignites. “You’re wrong! You’ve been wrong about me for ten years! Why the hell would I care what you think?! You’re not my fa–!” he cuts himself off abruptly, looking away with red tinges on his cheeks. It could be either from anger or embarrassment, or both.
A tense moment of silence passes between them, during which Doctor Palmer observes his patient cautiously. He’s finally gotten a genuine reaction from him, after nearly a month of emotionlessness. It reassures him, to know that Phillip hasn’t successfully shut himself down this time. The older Phillip grew, the harder it had become to coax him out of his thick-layered shells. He knows Phillip is only his patient, but he’d witnessed the boy grow into the bright yet troubled young man he is today. He’s treated him for a decade now, has seen him at his worst and at his best. His heart has ached too many times at the sight of this boy’s turmoils. He has numerously found himself furious at Carlyle Sr. for neglecting his own son’s health in favor of reputation. He knows Phillip is desperate for his father’s approval, as any son would be in his situation. Having received no paternal acknowledgement of pride, it was only natural for Phillip to have turned to the only other constant male presence in his life, even if subconsciously. Doctor Palmer knows he’s guilty of not having put a stop to that evolution above their doctor-patient relationship. He couldn’t. He didn’t want to. And yes, he’ll admit to having had a slip of the tongue once or twice while talking to Eliza about Phillip. But there had never been any harm to come from it.
“I’m not your father, Phillip.” he then answers calmly, noting the boy's minute flinch. “But I do care for you as one should.”
Once again, Phillip clenches his fists. They tremble.
“Then you are no longer fit to treat me.” he grits out coldly. “You’ve foolishly compromised your professionalism. I’m asking you to leave.”
“Do you think you are protecting yourself from further heartbreak by attempting to make me leave you?” Doctor Palmer asks, knowing not to rise to the bait. “I won’t abandon you, Phillip, you mustn’t expect me to.”
“They all do!” Phillip shouts, the pain and anger and resignation evident in his voice. “You– They use me! Make me give away my trust, and discard me when I… when I…” Phillip trails off as he begins scratching at his arm, stopping only a couple seconds later, seemingly realizing what he’s doing.
“When you what, Phillip?” the doctor presses, seeing the possibility for a breakthrough.
But Phillip is no longer listening. He thinks of vague memories of his childhood, he thinks of his first kiss with William. He thinks of James. No, no – Don’t think about it, don’t think about him, about his smile, his laugh, the way he made you feel. Don’t think about what you did together. Don’t think about what happened after, don’t – Stop it, STOP IT –
He gasps hollowly. He can feel his body becoming light, his mind surrounded by a false sense of calm. He knows what’s going to happen this time unlike the other times it has happened since he was admitted here, he remembers this feeling. The following panic as time and space changed. How much time will he lose this time? Hours? Days? Weeks? He can’t do this again, the fear will surely kill him this time.
“Phillip?” The doctor’s voice echoes around him.
“It’s...” Phillip slurs, his mouth filled with cotton, his own voice far away. “‘S happ’ning… ‘m...”
Each blink feels like a brick is pulling down his eyelids. Each blink could be his last one before jumping forward in time. He doesn’t want to blink, but his body isn’t obeying him. Why can’t he stop his eyes from–
He’s still standing in his hospital room, still floating on his feet. The sunlight is the same. Doctor Palmer is still here, dressed the same way. Did he not dissociate? He feels strong hands on both sides on his head.
“Stay with me, Phillip. Focus.” Doctor Palmer orders, his voice still barely an echo dancing around Phillip’s ears. “You’re going to be alright, focus on my voice.”
Why wouldn’t he be alright? He’s fine. Everything is fine. In fact, his mother promised him she’d bake his favorite biscuits for this afternoon. How is he going to eat them if he has a ballet recital? Ballet? No, he stopped that long ago. He takes poetry now. That’s right. No, it isn’t. They don’t teach poetry until third– no, fourth grade– no, he doesn’t need a new tie. The one his mother gave him for his birthday is still on the piano.
“Give me a color.” Doctor Palmer? What is he doing h– A color? What for? He’s not sure if he’s learned all the colors with Mrs. Morris yet. No, wait, his economics teacher is Mr. Brown. Mr. Joseph Brown. Joseph Haydn, the extraordinary piano composer. His mother plays his pieces often. He loves it when she plays the piano.
“Phillip, focus. Give me a color.” Doctor Palmer’s voice pushes through. Why does he need a color?
“Ivory.” Phillip breathes, only then realizing he’s panting. What’s happening? Where is he?
“Ivory, good. Repeat it. Visualize it.”
Phillip whimpers. He can’t breathe. He’s at the hospital– the asylum for mentally deranged people. He’s losing his mind, he’s already lost it!
“Phillip! Repeat the color!” The pressure on his temples increases, but not in a painful way. It’s almost like someone is holding him close. Maybe it could make him forget everything… Maybe… rhymes with ivory. His mother’s piano had ivory keys.
“I-Ivory.” There, he obeyed. Can someone draw the curtains? The light hurts.
“Give me a darker color.” Is that Doctor Palmer? Why would he want–
“Burgund… Burgundy.” His mother’s favorite shawl is burgundy. He remembers her wearing it for his seventh’s birthday. They had gone to the lake that day, him, his mother and his father. He had found a pretty heart shaped rock and a small turtle that he had promptly led back to the water. His father had agreed to let him keep the rock. He had given the rock to his mother as a gift. When she had commented that he should be the one receiving gifts on his birthday and not her, he had told her he was allowed to give gifts to his mother anytime he wanted. She had laughed and lifted him up in her arms, her shawl tickling his face. Years later, Phillip had saved up his allowance to buy her a new one of the same color when the old one became torn.
Maybe she’ll remember him from it after he’s died.
“Repeat the two.”
What time is it? Why is it so cold all of a sudden? Is he back in the pond? Has he never left? He’s dying, Death is gripping him with its cold dead hands–
“I-Ivory. Burgundy.” No, he’s not dying. Not yet. Not now. You wish you were, don’t you?
“Very good, Phillip. Again.”
“I can’t breathe– I’m–” losing time, my mind, sense of reality. I can’t do this.
“You can, just focus on my voice. Repeat the colors.”
“Ivory… B-Burgundy.” He’s going to suffocate. He’s buried inside a coffin, they’re laughing at him. It’s not his fault. He doesn't want to be this way. You chose to lay with a man. It’s his fault. Pansy boy! He’s vile. Sodomite! Something is scratching inside his head. They’re throwing dirt on his coffin. They’re laughing, mocking him.
“Phillip, calm down–” Why are they laughing?! Stop laughing! He’s worthless. He can’t breathe. Get away from me! Please stop! Get away–
He blinks. Then he screams.
“–assure you, there is no need for that.”
He can’t move. Why can’t he move? His body feels sore, and warm. He can hear a faint yet rapid rhythm in his left ear that isn’t his making. He sees his bed from a floor perspective. The bedside table is tipped over, the aluminium water cup next to it, its content freshly spilled across the floor. From the corner of his eyes, he can see the edges of a white coat and a dark blue vest. The smell is familiar.
“Doctor Palmer, I must insist.”
Phillip recognizes the head nurse’s voice. What is he insisting upon? And why can’t he move ? Phillip whimpers, jerking in whatever hold he’s in.
“Phillip?” Doctor Palmer’s calm voice cuts through his panic, sounding from right above his head. “Can you hear me?”
“Wh-What’s– Why can’t I–”
“Everything’s under control, nurse, do not take another step.” Doctor Palmer cuts Phillip off in a rush. “You may leave now.”
“But Doctor–” the nurse attempts.
“It will do no one any good if my patient gets into another fit because of your sedative-happy self. Now out, all of you.”
Phillip remains quiet as three pairs of footsteps head towards the door. He manages to catch a glimpse of the head nurse tucking in a familiar seringue back into his pocket. When the door closes behind them, Phillip feels the hold on him relaxes minutely. He then realizes that the reason why he can’t move is because Doctor Palmer’s arms are around his waist and head, his own arms caught in the middle. Before Phillip can ask what happened, the doctor speaks up.
“It is currently a quarter past three in the afternoon, you’ve only dissociated for twenty minutes.”
Phillip jerks again with a small whine. “I– I can’t– I don’t–” He can’t think!
Doctor Palmer’s hold tightens again. “Easy, Phillip.” he hushes in a soothing voice. “You’re alright now.”
Phillip slumps against him with a shuddering sigh, a sob stuck in his throat. “I… I f-felt it.” he croaks. “I felt my mind s-slipping from m-me. I couldn’t s-stop it.”
The doctor’s arm around Phillip’s head loosens, his hand shifting up to thread in Phillip’s hair reassuringly. “But that’s a good thing, Phillip. You were aware this time. I saw your focus shift back to reality a few times. Can you recall what I asked you to say?” Phillip nods. Colors . “It is a working theory of mine that word association can stimulate the brain into clarity. Now, you managed to delay your episode this time, but I’m hoping that with some practice, you will be able to bring yourself back from a dissociative state and possibly, with time, stop yourself from having them entirely.”
Phillip doesn’t dare to let himself hope. He’s not sure he even understands what the doctor is saying, he’s so... tired. His senses are overwhelmed. His eyesight hurts, there’s the rhythm pulsing in his ear –Doctor Palmer’s heartbeat, he realizes from his position. Every strand of hair feels sensitive to the man’s hand. His mouth is dry, and the smell of rosemary emanates from the doctor’s clothes, as well as–
“D-Did I harm myself again?” he asks, the metallic odor setting his teeth on edge.
Doctor Palmer shifts slightly. “Ah, no, not this time.” His tone seems hesitant, making Phillip frown. He tilts his head to look up at the doctor. “Wait, Phillip–”
Phillip gasps, pulling out of the hold –the embrace, his brain supplies. He scrambles a couple feet backwards, unable to tear his gaze away from the doctor’s bloody nose and torn lip. There’s a scratch above his right eyebrow and on his cheek. Doctor Palmer sighs, seemingly unfazed by his own state, wiping the blood from his nose with his sleeve. It taints it red. Still, he remains seated against the wall, posture relaxed, or perhaps tired. Phillip looks around the room, piecing the evidence together; the tipped bedside table, the fallen cup, the notepad and fountain pen laying unceremoniously on the floor by the window, the specks of blood around it. When his inquisitive gaze lands on the calm-looking doctor again, noticing his roughed-up clothing as well, guilt and shame falls upon Phillip like a pack of bricks.
“I did this?” he asks in a small voice, despite knowing the answer.
“How could I do this?” Phillip rasps, looking down at his hands and reeling at the sight of dried blood on his knuckles and under his fingernails. “Why would I–”
“Phillip, come here please–”
“I’m so sorry, I–” Phillip chokes out, tears forming in his eyes. “I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry–”
“ Phillip. ” Doctor Palmer calls out sternly, making Phillip jump and shut his mouth with a snap. “Come here.”
Phillip stares at him, heart beating fast, tears threatening to spill. Look at what you’ve done. He’s angry. He hates you. He’ll leave, you’ll be alone. He’ll forget all about you, and you’ll have no one. No one. All alone.
He snaps out of his thoughts, seeing Doctor Palmer’s hand extended in invitation. Feeling weighed down by his shame and guilt, Phillip hesitantly shifts back toward the man. He takes the extended hand, and yelps as Doctor Palmer pulls him close, embracing him once more.
“You have nothing to be sorry for.” he assures a trembling Phillip. “You weren’t in control. I should have expected it, really. Violence can be a risk when a patient is already under angered duress prior to an episode.”
Phillip breathes out a shaky sigh against the doctor’s chest. “I didn’t mean to. I swear.” he whispers.
“I know you didn’t.” Doctor Palmer whispers back, kissing the top of his head. “Everything will be alright.”
Chapter 13: Intertwining Dreams And Reality
Intertwining Dreams And Reality
“What made you say ‘ivory’ and ‘burgundy’, Phillip?” Doctor Palmer asks him the next day, after both he and Phillip have had a full night’s rest.
Phillip glances at him from his bed, quickly looking away, unable to face what he’s done to the doctor. His nose is bandaged, as is the cut above his eyebrow, but the angry colors around the wounds remain visible, the cuts on his lip and cheek already healing but still swollen.
“I was thinking of my mother’s piano and her favorite shawl.” he answers simply.
“I see. So you have positive associations to these words?”
“I suppose.” Phillip’s tone remains monotone. “When can I get out of here?” It's a wasteful question, seeing as just yesterday he acted like an animal.
Doctor Palmer ceases his scribbling, looking up at Phillip with sympathy. “Not yet. But you know you can always ask me to accompany you to the gardens.”
Phillip scoffs. “You mean ‘supervise’ me.” he says bitterly. “Either way, I’ve been informed this morning that my outside privileges have been revoked.”
“Is that so?” Doctor Palmer asks, pursing his lips in discontentment. “I shall have a word with the nurses.”
Phillip sighs, shaking his head. “What’s the point? They’re right, I’m a danger to others. I don’t… I don’t want to hurt anybody else.” If I didn’t exist, no one would have gotten hurt. If I died, no one would get hurt again. "It's my fault. Always my fault."
A heavy silence settles in the room for a couple minutes.
“Have you been having dark thoughts again, Phillip?”
I’ve never stopped having them. Phillip doesn’t say this, simply curls his knees tighter to his chest. At least he isn’t restrained at the moment.
“I see.” Doctor Palmer says neutrally, nevertheless with an edge to his voice. “Should I be discussing arrangements for night surveillance with the nurses?”
Embarrassment floods Phillip’s cheeks. “No. I’m–” too much of a damn coward. “No.”
“Do you want to talk about it today?” the doctor asks gently.
“I’d rather not.” Phillip answers quietly.
Doctor Palmer conceals a disappointed sigh. How can he help his… patient, if he won’t open up?
“As you wish.” he says instead. “But Phillip, there will come a day when I will no longer tolerate your continuous digression.”
Phillip dreams of James. He dreams of his touch, his words, the feeling of heat over and in his body. It feels good. James is engulfing him in his presence, eyes glinting with lust. It feels wrong. It hurts. Why does it hurt? Why doesn’t it feel right? He wants it to feel right. He wants it to stop.
James… please stop.
He shouldn’t have done this. It’s his fault. He wanted it to feel good, he thought it would. His body is vile.
James, tell me you lied. Please tell me –
James laughs. It sounds cruel. Malicious. What has he done? Why won’t it stop? Why won’t–
You never cared for me. What did I do wrong?
The heat becomes cold, it freezes him, pulsing into him at a painful pace. He can’t cover himself. He is vile. James walks away. It was supposed to be good. They were supposed to–
Did you really think anyone could ever love you, Phillip?
Cover your disgusting body, sodomite.
James, please come back. I’m sorry! Please tell me you care – James!
Phillip wakes up slowly, swallowing thickly around the lump in his throat. He often has dreams that leave a bad taste in his mouth, but the ones with James in them always make him want to scratch his skin off. He raises a hand to his cheeks, wiping the tears he has shed in his sleep. He doesn’t question why his hands are free, he doesn’t care. He does care, however, about the familiar figure he can see from the corner of his eye.
“Is watching me sleep part of your theoretical treatment?” Phillip quips without much tone, looking at the ceiling.
“Not necessarily, no.” Doctor Palmer answers casually. “You slept in quite late today.”
“It’s been a long week.” Phillip retorts sarcastically. He's feeling vulnerable having had the doctor watching him sleep. A week has passed since his violent outburst, and despite the doctor insisting on working on those word associations, Phillip has otherwise remained quiet and distant.
“Yes, I can imagine how spending an entire week in silence and cooped up in your room must have been tiring.”
“Is that your Saint patience I can hear cracking?” Phillip snips back.
“Frankly, yes.” the doctor deadpans.
Phillip did not expect that answer. The ever-growing guilt inside him rouses. He closes his eyes with a quiet sigh. He wishes he could go back to sleep, but more often than not it brings him no respite, haunted by memories both twisted and real.
“Who is James?”
Phillip’s eyes snap back open. Keep calm. He doesn’t know. He can’t know. But then how does he know the name?
“Who?” Phillip asks with what he thinks is a nonchalant voice, glancing at the doctor. His bruises are fading to a lighter color, the lip almost entirely healed, and nose still bandaged.
“James.” Doctor Palmer repeats indulgently. “You’ve spoken his name multiple times in your sleep.”
“I know a James who works in a bakery on 42nd and 7th. James Hayworth, if I recall.” Phillip says smoothly, forcing himself to maintain the other man’s gaze. “Haven’t seen him in years. His French croissants are very renowned among–”
“Phillip.” Doctor Palmer cuts in sharply, pausing before continuing in a clipped tone. “Do you think yourself wise, blatantly lying to me?”
A memory stirs. Burgundy.
“Do not take me for a fool further than you already have!” the doctor snaps, voice raised and visibly frustrated. Do you take me for the biggest fool with those lies, boy?!
Phillip flinches with a whimper, looking down as a phantom pain invades the skin of his cheek. Ivory. Burgundy. Ivory . Burgundy. Ivo – This isn't working!
“I‘m sorry.” he breathes out quickly, gripping the sheets tightly. He must be overreacting. The doctor surely just wants to understand.
Ivory. Burgundy. Ivory. Burgundy.
“Tell me who James is, Phillip.” Doctor Palmer orders.
“H-He’s no one. A-A baker–” Phillip tries, beginning to tremble. He shouldn’t lie, he’ll be punished for it. But the truth is worse. Why can't he calm himself down? He's giving himself away like a damn fool. But he knows what follows anger: abandonnement. Doctor Palmer has finally lost his patience with him, he’s furious. He will leave. He knew it would happen, he just knew it. But Phillip can’t tell him the truth of who James is. Doctor Palmer will be disgusted with him. He won’t protect him when the other doctors will want to lock him in an even smaller cage and throw away the key. His mother will realize he is an abomination. His father will know what he’s done, what he is. A vile sodomite.
“Stop hiding behind lies!” Doctor Palmer cuts him off again. Phillip bites down a cry.
“I-I’m s-sorry...” Phillip croaks, wrapping his arms around himself, digging his nails into his arms. He’s going to leave, never come back, abandon Phillip like they all have. It’s his fault, always his fault.
Phillip doesn’t realize he’s started crying until he tastes the salty liquid on his lips. Doctor Palmer frowns at the rapid escalation of the situation. A simple push of the subject has sent his patient into an agitated state. Whether to continue pushing his limit or not is a gamble, but one he deems necessary to take.
“Phillip, who is James?”
Phillip shakes his head. “Y-You’ll send me away.” he gasps, a sob escaping him at the same time. “Please d-don’t make me say it. I shouldn’t have done– I’m sorry…”
The doctor sighs, taking ahold of his patient's arm to separate them from each other, releasing them when he meets no resistance.
“Breathe, Phillip.” Doctor Palmer says calmly. “You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to.” Gambling with someone’s feelings, particularly if that someone happens to have a special place in his heart, is not an act the doctor can keep up for very long.
Phillip slumps with a sob, bringing his arms up to hide himself. Every few breaths he’ll whisper apologetic broken words, eventually turning away from the doctor as he tries to compose himself. Doctor Palmer doesn’t comment, feeling remorseful about having snapped at Phillip. Maybe their closeness has become an inconvenience. He has barely been able to make progress with the boy, and cannot bring himself to use harsher methods. But damn it, he can’t help but want Phillip to feel safe and comfortable around him.
“I will never send you away, Phillip, not for anything you tell me, nor for anything you’ve done.” he says softly. “I hope deep down you know that.”
Phillip doesn’t answer, but after nearly fifteen minutes, his breathing eventually returns to normal. Seeing as his patient is no longer at risk of an episode, Doctor Palmer stands. He walks around the bed cautiously, heart clenching at the sight of Phillip curled up tightly onto himself, face hidden in the crook of his elbows.
“I’ll be back tomorrow.”
He waits a few seconds, just in case Phillip decides to ask him to stay. When he doesn’t, Doctor Palmer internally sighs, and takes a couple steps forward, gently laying a hand on top of Phillip’s head. He smiles softly when the boy doesn’t flinch. With some reluctance, the doctor pulls back and heads for the door. He’s about to push the handle down when Phillip’s voice reaches his ears in a rasped whisper.
“I’ve laid with a man.”
Chapter 14: The Truth Beneath The Cold
The Truth Beneath The Cold
“I’m assuming that man is James?” Doctor Palmer asks after a few minutes of silence, having sat back down. Phillip nods, his back still turned to the doctor. “I see.”
He wonders what to ask or say next. He’s encountered men suspected of… ‘exchanging pleasantries’ with other men. He’s not biggoted. As a man of logic –as Eliza likes to call him teasingly– it is, well, illogical to discriminate someone based on their different choice in partners. But that it a problem humanity is still far from solving. Also, it would be almost hypocritical of him. Besides, he’s known Phillip since he was a child, and he’s no deviant. He’s a perfectly good boy with mental sensitivities, who’s been struggling with his preferences since he was a young teenager. This is along the same lines as when Phillip told him about William, surely. Maybe. Not quite. He’ll admit to feeling out of his element, and definitely compromised when it comes to his– to Phillip’s protection. But he’ll find a way, for Phillip.
One question burns on his tongue, however, as he quickly gathers facts of Phillip’s reactions since his dissociative episodes have started. His panic could be explained by fear of judgement and repercussions. But everything else, the shame-filled looks, the erratic mood swings, the dissociations when the subject almost came up… It’s beginning to look like other cases he’s seen, mostly in women.
“Phillip, I need to ask.” he starts softly, forcing an air of calm. “Was it consensual?”
The following silence sets the doctor on edge, building a sudden desire to track down this James and cut off his–
“Yes.” Phillip answers quietly.
Doctor Palmer lets out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding. There’s that, at least.
“Is James a boy from your university?” he asks then, despite knowing the logical answer.
Again, no further information is offered. But as long as Phillip is answering, then he can work with that.
“How long have you known each other?”
“Do you still think of him?”
“How long have you been romantically involved together?”
No answer. A sniffle. Doctor Palmer stands, and once again walks around the bed, this time sitting on it by Phillip’s folded legs. The boy’s eyes are closed, hands fisted in his pillow
“Do you remember what I told you when I found out about the letters you exchanged with William?” he asks softly, placing a hand atop Phillip’s knee. Phillip shrugs with one shoulder. “I told you your feelings were nothing to be ashamed of, and I stand by that statement.”
Phillip’s eyes open cautiously, peering up at his doctor.
“It’s not the same.” he says quietly, looking away. “I… What I’ve done is… It’s vile.”
“Why do you think that?” Doctor Palmer asks.
“Because it is .” Phillip snaps, regretting it instantly. “Sorry.”
“It’s alright.” the doctor says. “But tell me, why do you think it’s vile?”
“Don’t you?” Phillip retorts.
“It doesn’t matter what I think.” Doctor Palmer states, before raising a brow. “We’ve established that.”
Phillip lowers his gaze, a look of shame and regret passing through him. He waits a few seconds before speaking. “I didn’t mean what I said. Last week. You were right.”
“About what?” the doctor asks softly.
“About me, caring what you think. Of course I do.” Phillip finishes in a breath.
Doctor Palmer sighs, squeezing his knee. He hadn’t taken Phillip’s angered opinion to heart, but he is still touched by the admission. “Nevertheless, I want to know your opinion on the matter. Do you think sex–” the doctor resists the urge to smile fondly as Phillip’s eyes widen at the word. Still so young. “–between two people who love each other is natural?”
“Y-Yes.” the younger man answers bashfully. “B-But I am a man, and h-he is a man. And…” he trails off.
“And we don’t… we didn’t love each other.” he whispers, voice cracking. “We weren’t… romantically involved.”
The doctor observes his patient. His breathing is picking up. He opens his mouth, ready to help Phillip regulate his breathing, when he hears the whispered words.
“ Ivory. Burgundy. Ivory… ”
When Phillip begins to tremble again, Doctor Palmer once again squeezes his knee. “Phillip, what is a smell that you associate with calm and peace?”
After twenty seconds of silence, just as the doctor is about to ask again, Phillip rasps out. “Rosemary.”
“Alright, repeat those three words.” So Phillip does. Over and over. Until he settles down.
They spend the next couple minutes in silence.
“I hate being this way.” Phillip eventually whispers tiredly.
“You’ve calmed yourself down.” the doctor points out with a hint of pride. “Keep this up and you will win against ‘this way’.”
Phillip doesn’t answer, not wanting to give himself hope.
“I think we’ve talked enough for today, don’t you?” Doctor Palmer asks as he notices Phillip’s slumping position, earning a small nod from Phillip. “We’ll resume this tomorrow.” He stands. “You did very good today, Phillip.”
He walks towards the door, stopping just as he pushes the handle down. He turns back to Phillip, who’s closed his eyes.
“Why rosemary?” he asks curiously.
Phillip opens his eyes, staring up at him. His wide, blue eyes have a sheepish yet shy glint to them.
“I, um, I find it soothing.” Phillip answers simply.
When he doesn’t elaborate, Doctor Palmer inclines his head in farewell, and leaves.
That night, as Thomas Palmer finishes brushing his hair after a shower, he sets down his comb on the dresser. Struck with an odd feeling, he picks up his cologne bottle. He’s worn the same cologne for over two decades, he recalls. He inspects the label.
Jean-Marie’s Eau de Cologne
Pure Rosemary Extract
Try as he might, he can’t force down the fond smile on his lips until the moment he falls asleep. Even then, he is sure it’s still plastered on his face while he dreams.
“Are you ready to resume our talk?” Doctor Palmer asks his patient the next day. Phillip nods with a sigh, standing by the window, staring out at the grey sky. “Very good. Now, you told me yesterday how you had engaged in a sexual encounter with James despite neither of you having romantic feelings towards the other.”
Phillip ducks his head, nodding again, his cheeks taking on a red color. Doctor Palmer observes him from his seat.
“And yet,” Doctor Palmer continues, “there seems to be an element missing. The reason behind the first dissociative episode aside from the fear of repercussions. I’m certain you are aware of it by now, you are a smart boy after all.”
Phillip glances at him. He feels a touch of warmth at the doctor’s compliment, but it’s quickly overshadowed by the bitter humiliation still fresh in his mind.
“I…” Phillip starts, clearing the lump in his throat, trying also to clear the fictive thought of Doctor Palmer laughing at him once he’s learned the entire truth. “I’ve always had… difficulties interacting with my peers, as you know. And after Wi–” he clears his throat again. “After William it became even more– I didn’t want to feel this way again.”
“Deep breath, Phillip.”
Phillip obeys, and continues resolutely. “But then, James was suddenly there, and he was… he was…”
“He became your friend?” Doctor Palmer suggests softly. He remembers every time Phillip had succumbed to a tearful breakdown during their therapy sessions during his younger years, many of which were spurred on by the certainty of his inability to build friendships, to be liked.
“I loved him.” Phillip whispers, shutting his eyes. The weight of his secret lifts, the words pouring out of him in a desperate need to let everything out. “And I thought– I had convinced myself that nothing would ever come of it, but when he– when he kissed me– when he showed me what we could be, I– I thought–”
You’re perfect, Phillip.
“You thought he shared your feelings.” the doctor concludes.
Phillip nods shakily, biting the inside of his cheek, taking another deep breath before continuing. “B-But he didn’t, he just– he just wanted my… wanted to...”
Doctor Palmer stands up, hearing his patient’s breathing becoming shallower. “Phillip–”
“I feel– I felt used . Soiled. Humiliated.” Phillip continues. “Disgusting.” The first sob catches him by surprise.
“It’s normal to feel hurt by his actions, Phillip.” Doctor Palmer tells him, now standing next to him. “You felt and still feel betrayed by someone you trusted and loved. What is not normal is the betrayal itself, and what you are made to feel because of it. These words you use to describe yourself are in no way true. They stem from an opinion you’ve constructed of yourself under the effects of this melancholia.”
Phillip only shakes his head in disagreement as another sob is torn from his throat. And another. And from there, they all come out one after the other, lacing through his broken sentences.
“He t-told me he had befriended me for this– this purpose only. As if I w-was only a… an object. Nothing but a–” virgin. Tight hole.
The words cascade from his lips before he can stop them, voice raising in despair. “A-All my l-life I’ve felt u-used and abandoned, d-discarded like I am n-nothing. E-Every time I try, and I– I can’t t-take it anymore! I don’t w-want to live like this! I’m w-worthless! T-Tainted and b-broken! I w-wish I could j-just sleep and n-never awaken–” His vision starts to blur, his own voice becoming distant. It only increases his distress. He flinches when he suddenly finds himself in a tight embrace.
“Say the words.” Doctor Palmer instructs him calmly.
It takes Phillip a few long seconds to obey, biting down his sobs. With effort, he repeats the three-worded mantra over and over again until he is out of breath. It’s not working! He fists his hands into the doctor’s medical coat, inhaling deeply. Rosemary.
“You can fight it, Phillip, you’re in control. I’m right here with you.”
Doctor Palmer is here. He’s here. He’s not alone. He’s not alone.
“Repeat after me.” the doctor instructs. “Ivory.”
“Time. Ten fifty-five A.M.”
“T-Time. Ten fifty..fifty-five A.M.”
“Ivory… B-Burgundy… Rosemary, Time… ten fifty-five A-A.M.”
Phillip repeats this again and again, changing the time when the doctor tells him to. He’s not physically aware of the time passing. But not in a dissociative way, he notices, as he whispers the time. He just loses himself in the soothing repetitive oral pattern of the words, and in the warm, reassuring embrace. The hands on his neck and back ground him as well.
And eventually, the lump in his throat and rocks in his lungs disappear, permitting him to finally breathe freely.
He sighs in relief, a surprised laugh escaping him. “I did it.” he rasps, dropping his head on Doctor Palmer’s shoulder.
"Yes, you did." the doctor confirms. "You did great, my boy."
If Phillip notices the slip-up, he doesn't comment upon it. By the way his arms wrap around the other man, Doctor Palmer thinks he did. And it's just fine.
Chapter 15: Hope Is For The Hopeless
Hello everyone! I hope you all had a great new year! I meant to write that in the previous chapter's notes, and it may or may not have slipped my mind. Ehe.
Anyway, leave a comment and/or kudos if you like this so far, lovely TGS fans!
Hope Is For The Hopeless
A month passes by, and Phillip’s grasp on his emotions gradually improves for awhile. There are still occasions where he loses his balance and is unable to prevent his episodes, sinking back into panic and despair, invaded by his darkest thoughts until his lungs refuse to fill with air. But with the help of his doctor, he doesn’t let the new hope from his first success flicker out. Together they delve deep into Phillip’s fears and insecurities. Some days, Phillip opens up freely, other days he doesn’t utter a word. Some days he takes Doctor Palmer’s words of praise to heart, most days Phillip will inflict words of anger and hatred towards himself. Despite the breakthrough and the occasional willingness to talk, the sensation of having given up on himself is still present, pulsing inside of him to the rhythm of his heartbeat. Every night before bed, he voluntarily lets his mind wander to the possibility of death, to the peace it would bring him. He simultaneously hates and yearns for those thoughts. They ground him. He doesn’t tell his doctor about these thoughts anymore. Whenever Doctor Palmer will try to bring up the subject, Phillip brushes it off, passing the previous mentions as ‘overwhelmed’ moments. The doctor ceases to push the matter, while still eyeing his patient with worry.
Phillip still refuses to see his mother, even as his desire to only increases. Doctor Palmer informs him of her wellbeing and the communicated letters between them, but no word about his father. Phillip understands why there is nothing to report.
Another month passes, Phillip becomes restless. Frustrated. He wants to leave, to go home. With every passing day, he fears he will never be allowed freedom again. He asks Doctor Palmer again, as he does every week. The doctor gives him the same answer. Not yet. Phillip turns angry. He shouts at him, well aware of his rapid mood changes, yet no less worried.
One day, after yet another negative answer, Phillip throws his aluminum cup against the wall in anger. Doctor Palmer remains calmly in his seat, taking notes. Phillip grabs his notebook and tears at it furiously. Still, the doctor only responds with a neutral tone, asking him questions Phillip doesn’t want to answer. Is this anger truly directed at me, or at yourself? Phillip screams at him to get out. When next he blinks, pain courses through his left hand all the way to his elbow, agony lacing his fingers. His knuckles are torn and bloody, a spot on the wall in front of him matching his crimson color. Doctor Palmer stands next to him, thankfully uninjured this time, calling for a nurse while cradling Phillip’s damaged hand.
The next day, Doctor Palmer has a new notebook. Phillip remains silent, his bandaged arm and hand held by a sling around his neck. His elbow was only dislocated, now blue and sore, his wrist only sprained, but two of his fingers are fractured. He refuses food that day. And the day after. And the one after that, until Doctor Palmer is forced to threaten him with a longer stay if he doesn’t eat. Phillip glares, and the moment he swallows down one bite of mashed potatoes, it comes back up and out. Doctor Palmer sits on the bed next to him and pats his back. Phillip cries for the first time in a month. Doctor Palmer tells him a relapse is to be expected here and then, especially in this environment. He holds Phillip close, hushing him as Phillip apologizes desperately for his failure to get better.
The next day, Phillip is brought a familiar soup. He eats it with no repercussions. When he asks Doctor Palmer how he managed to obtain Miss Eliza’s family recipe, he tells him he learned it a few years back. Phillip stares owlishly at him, at the soft smile on his lips. He’s seen this smile on other young men when faced with women they gave their hearts to. He knows he wore it himself as well when thinking about James months ago. Noticing his confused gaze, Doctor Palmer only winks conspiringly at him. Phillip almost drops his bowl in shock. But he keeps his surprise in check. After all, there should be nothing wrong with Doctor Palmer being involved with a Black woman. Especially one as nice and caring as Miss Eliza. Beautiful, too. Himself having been involved with another man, however…
As June ends and July begins, Phillip’s mood lifts again. He feels unsettled by his mood swings, but the doctor assures him it’s not unusual and that his mind will settle with time and concentration. At least, Phillip manages to calm himself down a few times, even when Doctor Palmer isn’t there. He dares feel pride at that fact, especially on the occasions he nearly dissociates while he’s all alone at night with his darkest thoughts. Those moments scare him the most. But he thinks of his mother playing the piano, of the feeling of her shawl brushing his face, of the smell of rosemary as he is held tenderly, and when it still isn’t enough, he replays the two words Doctor Palmer had said to him with a genuine and affectionate tone. My boy.
His boy. His boy. Phillip basks in the memory of the sound of these two words–
“I believe a ‘happy birthday’ is in order.” Doctor Palmer cuts through Phillip’s thoughts. Phillip blinks in confusion, before realization dawns on him.
It’s his birthday.
“Oh.” Phillip says quietly. He’s never liked his birthday too much, ever since… well, before he can even remember. Now, turning nineteen in a ‘prison’, he likes it even less. “Thank you.”
They are sitting side by side on a bench in the gardens, as the day is beautiful and bright. Phillip clenches and unclenches his hand, his newly released fingers still stiff. He looks up at the sky, observing a robin land on a branch. He wishes he could fly. He wishes he could be free to at least… try.
“How are you feeling today, Phillip?” Doctor Palmer asks him, his tone indicating he suspects Phillip to be upset about this day.
“Great. Just great.” Phillip answers dryly. “Spending my birthday locked up in a mad house is just great. Who knows, maybe next year the nurses will bake me a cake.”
Phillip instantly regrets taking this tone with his doctor. He is about to continue with an apology, when Doctor Palmer sets a hand on his knee.
“You won’t be here next year, I can promise you that.”
Only because I’ll probably be dead by then –
“If you say so, Doctor.” Phillip sighs, closing his eyes and leaning back against the wall behind them.
After a couple minutes of silence, Doctor Palmer clears his throat. “Do you think yourself ready to see your mother again?”
The question doesn’t take Phillip by surprise, as the doctor asks it often. He sighs. He’s never spent a birthday away from his mother. It’s very childish of him to feel regret at the fact that she won’t be with him this year. It makes the longing for her smile and affection all the more poignant today, which is why he nods silently.
“Well, that is great news.” Doctor Palmer declares with a grin. “Because she should be arriving any minute now.”
Phillip snaps his eyes open, back straightening so quick it almost snaps. He stares at the doctor with incredulity and shock. “She’s coming?!” he exclaims. “Why didn’t you tell me– I would have– I’m not ready!”
“Why, you just told me you were, Phillip.” Doctor Palmer smirks, squeezing his knee. “Or were you just feigning bravery?”
“I don’t have to feign anything!” Phillip snaps, affronted. He can be brave, when he wants.
Doctor Palmer raises an eyebrow, his smirk still in place.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to prove it to me.” he challenges.
“Anytime.” Phillip answers with a glare.
“Well then, how about right now?” he shoots back, and looks past Phillip’s shoulder.
Phillip narrows his eyes, and turns his head to look behind him. His heart almost stops.
His mother, his beautiful, loving, amazing mother is there, a blinding smile on her face. Phillip is frozen in place, unsure what to do. Run away – Run to her! He turns back to his doctor. He wants to tell him that his trick was very unethical of him, that he is a damn scheming old man. He wants to ask the doctor what the hell is wrong with him, and how Phillip can ever thank him.
“Go on then.” Doctor Palmer tells him softly with an encouraging smile. “Trust me, she’s just as delighted to see you as you are to see her. It’ll be fine.”
With a hesitant nod, Phillip stands, his legs wobbly, and turns to fully face his mother, standing only a few feet away. He walks up to her, unable to keep down a smile. Despite his nervousness, he is genuinely thrilled by her mere presence.
“Mother.” he greets warmly, his voice cracking with emotion just the slightest bit.
“Hello, darling.” she answers with a wide smile, her eyes shining.
Before Phillip can say another word, he finds himself in his mother’s arms. She hugs him tightly, and he gladly returns the embrace. He’s missed the unique warmth that always accompanies her actions and words.
“Oh, Phillip, how I’ve missed you so.” she says with such affection it sends a mix of longing and guilt through Phillip. He’s put her through so much. It’s his fault she sounds almost tearful.
“I’ve missed you too, Mother.” he answers back truthfully. They pull away, her hand setting on his cheek gently.
“You’re too thin, dear.” she admonishes lightly before turning serious, glancing at Doctor Palmer who remains standing near the bench, observing. “Are they not feeding you well?”
“They feed me plenty, Mother.” he reassures her. He doesn’t tell her that he refuses to, or even simply cannot eat more often than not.
“Good. That’s good.” she breathes in relief, letting her hand fall slowly. Another pang of guilt shoots through Phillip. He can’t get better, and he’s giving her false hope that he is. “My sweet boy. My sweet, sweet little boy.” she adds fondly for no apparent reason.
Phillip huffs a laugh. “I’m not so little anymore.” Or sweet, for that matter.
“How right you are.” she concedes with a nostalgic smile. “Happy birthday. I would have brought you something, but–”
“You don’t need to–”
“– but , we were told it’s not allowed.” she finishes.
“It’s alright, Mother. I’m just happy you’re–” Wait, ‘we’? “Who else is here?” he asks with a confused frown.
She opens her mouth to answer when a familiar if dreaded voice cuts in.
Chapter 16: Darkness Is Human
Hi people! Here's another chapter! Leave a kudos and/or comment if you like it! :)
Darkness Is Human
“Father?” Phillip half greets, half questions. He can’t believe his own eyes. Why is he here? Phillip looks back at Doctor Palmer, who seems as surprised as Phillip to see the elder Carlyle here. And is it Phillip’s imagination, or is that a wary frown on the doctor’s face? “I thought–” you didn’t want to see me in here. You didn’t want to acknowledge my existence as long as I was deranged. I thought –
“You thought I would be too busy to see my own son for his birthday?” Henry Carlyle asks.
“I’m…” Phillip lowers his eyes, unsure of what to say. His heart is beating as fast as it was when he first saw his mother mere minutes ago, but this time he can feel the acid travelling to his veins with every beat. “I would have understood.”
“Naturally.” his father says.
The silence that follows sends chills down Phillip’s spine. He begins repeating the mantra in his head.
“Phillip, dear?” his mother’s voice startles him. He looks at her. “Are you alright?”
“Yes.” he answers too quickly, swallowing the lump in his throat. “Yes, of course.” Of course he isn’t. He’s in an asylum, isn’t he?
“Catherine, why don’t you go have a seat over there, I'll make sure he’s alright.” Phillip’s father declares, looking intently at his son. “We’ll be right back. That’s alright with you, isn’t it, Phillip?”
No! Nonono –
“Of course.” he manages to say.
His mother looks hesitant, but doesn’t protest. With one last look of encouragement to her son, she walks over to the same bench he and Doctor Palmer had been sitting on.
“Come along, Phillip. Let’s take a walk.” his father says, already beginning to walk away from the other party. Phillip hurriedly falls in line, not seeing the deepening frown on the doctor’s brow.
Phillip doesn’t dare break the silence as they walk side by side, the deep feeling of unease increasing with each step away and out of sight from the comfort of his mother and the doctor.
“How is your treatment working, Phillip?” his father eventually asks. Phillip lets out a breath. It’s a normal question. No need to get riled up.
“Doctor Palmer is confident in my recovery.” Phillip answers with a steady voice.
A beat of silence.
“I see.” his father says. “And has he told you his estimation of your remaining time here?”
Phillip swallows thickly. “He has not. But–”
“So you intend to simply wait for his opinion?” his father asks, his tone too neutral to be just that.
The acid climbs up Phillip’s throat. “W-Well, he would know best–”
“You would continue to pain your mother with your absurdities, Phillip?”
Phillip stops walking, ice exploding through every nerve of his body. His breathing cuts short when his father turns to him, eyes cold and piercing.
“I-I’m not trying to–” Phillip tries, feeling his throat constrict. Ivory. Burgundy –
“And yet you are.” his father continues, taking a step closer to his son. “Do you have any idea the state you’re putting her in? She’s become ill from it. Every day she cries and laments. Because of you .”
Phillip tries to take a step back, only for his father to grab ahold of his upper arm in a vice-like grip. “Have you no shame, Phillip?” he asks, as though he doesn’t already know the answer.
Phillip whimpers, tears threatening to fall. “I’m not–” he chokes, both unable to breathe and unable to deny his father’s words. He’s right. It is his fault.
“If you have any decency left,” Carlyle Sr. drawls, “if you haven’t fully rejected your mother’s misplaced affection for you, then you will stop this charade, and come home, or don’t bother coming back at all. Do I make myself clear?”
His grip tightens, sure to leave a mark. Phillip cannot look away from the icy, threatening glare, sickened by it. When he doesn’t answer, his father pulls him closer sharply.
“I said, is that clear, boy ?” he hisses.
Phillip nods sharply a few times, closing his eyes in shame and paralyzing fear. Henry Carlyle grunts and releases him, pushing him back. Phillip’s legs almost buckle. He bites his lower lip to prevent an imminent sob. It comes out as a choked sound instead. His ears are ringing, the chirping of the birds echo in the distance, and he doesn’t need to open his eyes to know that the world around him will be dark around the edges. Nevertheless, he opens them, and still his panic increases as he sees he was correct. He sees his father giving him one last look of contempt before turning around and walking away, leaving his son to choke on his own breath and scratch at his arms erratically.
“Ivory,” Phillip rasps to himself, “b-burgundy, ro-rosemary. Time…” He has no watch. There is no clock on the wall. He can’t dissociate now, not when his parents are here, his mother– You’re the reason she suffers. You’re a disappointment. She doesn’t love you, why would she? You’re a pansy and deranged. No– You’re sick. You’ll never get better. No– Never. Please, I can– You’ll die here, pansy boy. Alone! Alonealonealone –
It’s dark. Completely dark. Where is he? It’s cold, he’s laying on a floor, hard, damp, and just as cold as the air around him. It’s quiet. No, there is a slow dripping sound, somewhere. Where is he? How long has he dissociated?
Is this Hell?
Has he died? Is it finally over? But he didn’t want to– Yes, you did. No, he can’t be dead. He would know. How would you know if you dissociated? No, no it can’t be. Death would be a relief, and he definitely isn’t feeling any kind of relief.
Groaning, Phillip tries pushes himself up to a sitting position, only to fall back down, acutely feeling the pain in his arms. Scratches. He must have been scratching himself. His father was there, he said– Phillip gasps, recalling the words that pierced his very soul. Ivoryburgundyrosemarytime – What time is it? He can’t tell if it’s night or day. It was day mere seconds ago, but this information is null. Not a shed of light. Pitch black– No, wait, there is a slither of it, a very thin line, on his eye level. He stretches an arm to reach for it, but it’s farther away than it looks. Slowly, cautiously, Phillip crawls to the only source of light. When he is close enough, or at least thinks so, he reaches for it again. He can feel warmer air coming from it. He lets his hands roam above it, feeling the hard surface there. A door. Logically it has to be a door, the light coming from whatever is behind it. There is no handle. How can he get out? Why is he even here? Where is here?
He knocks at the hollow door, feeling it reverberate under his palm, hearing it ricochet off the walls of whatever room he is in.
“Hello?” he calls out raspily. “Is anyone there?”
No answer. He knocks again, with his knuckles, this time. “Can anybody hear me? Doctor Palmer!” He knocks harder, his voice rising in increased panic. “Hello? I’m in here!” he shouts, voice cracking. “Anybody?! Please–” he gasps, knocking louder and faster until his hand aches. Then he does the same with his other hand, until both feel sore and bruised. A memory surfaces, being locked outside in the dark, pain in his hands from wordlessly begging to be let back in. Now he is locked in.
He stands up, beginning to feel the walls for something, anything , that will help him figure out where he is, and how to get out. He finds that, like any room, there are four corners. No light switch, no window, no bed, no mattress, nothing ! Just a small, empty, pitch black room. He’s alone, no one is coming for him! How long has passed? How will he know? What happened to his parents? Where’s Doctor Palmer? Questions fire up in his mind, each bringing its own touch of fear and panic. Why is he here? He was good, wasn’t he? They abandoned you again, pansy boy. The ringing in his ears is back, so Phillip does the only thing he can do in his state. Ivory –
Clink. Woosh. Clonk.
Those are the only three sounds Phillip hears. Three times a day. Or maybe twice. Or once a week. He doesn’t know. There is no natural light to tell him how much time passes. Or any light at all, except for that thin sliver under the door. That light keeps him sane. And those three sounds. Clink . A latch opens on the bottom of the door, letting more light in. Woosh . A food platter slides into the room. Clonk. The latch closes. Back to darkness. How does the platter disappear after? Phillip doesn’t know. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t touch it. He doesn’t move from his corner. He can’t be sure if he ever truly opens his eyes, if the light from the latch is even real. If those three sounds are truly heard, or only echoes in his head. Can he really say that these possible figments of his imagination keep him sane? No, probably not.
Clink. Woosh. Clonk.
A loud bang startles Phillip awake, or perhaps brings him back to consciousness, he doesn’t know. A blinding light assaults his eyes too quickly, burning them. He covers them on reflex with his palms, but a couple seconds later his hands are pulled away roughly and without warning. Phillip cries out in fright as he is pulled to a semblance of a seated position, opening his eyes out of instinct to find out the source of this action. His vision is blurry, he can barely make out two looming figures on each side of him. It terrifies him. He doesn’t know if this is real or not. He startles once more when something is pushed against his lips. It smells nauseating. He doesn’t know what it is. He can’t think clearly. He attempts to turn his head away, but his hair is gripped and pulled so that he cannot try again. Something is once again pressed against his mouth. Phillip tries to pull at his hands in vain. His hair is pulled tighter, making him gasp. Something cold is forced past his lips. Blinded, restrained, unable to understand what is happening, he spits it out instantly. The growls sounding from above him send ice down his spine. His hands and arms are pulled forward and then back around his waist. He can’t fight it. His breath rushes out of his lungs as something tightens on his back. He can’t move. The grip in his hair shifts, pulling his head back as a weight closes around the back of his neck. One of the figures leans closer. He can’t make out what it is. He closes his eyes to spare himself at least this pain. Phillip’s jaw is suddenly pried open, and the cold, waxy-like texture makes its way past his lips again. Only this time, his mouth is forcibly closed. Pressure builds on his nose, making it impossible to breathe. Phillip struggles and trashes, whining in distress as the need for air increases. Tears begin to gather in his eyes in sheer terror. He swallows. He can breathe again. Until the next dose demands entry, recommencing the process. Phillip swallows almost immediately then, fearful of the consequences. The substance travels down his throat one portion after the other, filling his stomach after the first four. He whimpers as it continues, bloating him to the point he is sure he’ll burst. The taste is repulsive, the feeling of it making him want to vomit. He doesn’t want this. Why won’t it stop? His whimpers turn to whines, the tears finally falling down his cheeks as he loses count of how many times he is made to swallow.
Phillip doesn’t know when it stops, only that he is alone in the dark once again. His moans resonates in the small room as he leans to the side and empties the contents of his stomach, once, twice, five times. His upper body sinks back to the floor, in the position he had been in before the light had come to add to his torment. Or had he imagined it? Had any of it been real, or just another nightmare? He wants to bury his head in his arms either way. He still can’t move them, however, as the soft sound of rustling fabric reaches his ears.
“You couldn’t just pretend to be cured, could you?”
Phillip startles, lifting his head from his knees. Darkness. The thin sliver of light. Who spoke?
“H-Hello?” he calls out quietly, his voice raw from screaming. No, wait, that was days– hours– weeks– minutes ago. No answer. It wasn’t real, again. He curls his bare toes. He’s always alone. No one ever wants him. No one ever wanted him.
“I suppose we’ll never change.”
Once again, Phillip whips up his head, and gasps breathlessly. There, standing in front of him, is a boy. Immune to darkness. Clear as day. “Wh-Who are you?” Phillip asks, swallowing in an effort to soothe his throat. “Don’t you recognize me?” the boy asks with a tilt of his head.
Phillip is about to shake his head and ask again, when the boy’s bright blue eyes sparkle almost unnaturally. He knows those eyes. He’s been haunted by them every day of his miserable life, every time he sees his own reflection. But it can’t be. Can it?
“Now you understand.” the boy’s tone sounds playful, but his expression remains neutral. No, downcast. “Look what you’ve let us become.”
“B-But how–” Phillip’s mind reels. This is impossible. Is it even real?
“Does it really matter? You can see me, hear me. So listen.” the boy, himself , shrugs.
Phillip swallows thickly. Real or not, the boy – he – is his only company. Phillip craves it. So he decides to indulge this… apparition. And it seems his younger self has something to tell him.
“I thought we would get better the older we became.” young Phillip says with a resigned shake of his head. “But it seems I was wrong, and so was Doctor Palmer.”
Phillip tenses. “What do you know?” he huffs defensively, without any actual conviction.
Young Phillip tilts his head in indulgence. “I know you. I am you. I, however, unlike you, have no reason to pretend otherwise, as my time has passed.” He smiles sadly. “We are, and seemingly will remain deranged for the rest of our life.”
Phillip’s counter argument dies in his throat. There is something humiliating about hearing his younger self tell him that he is hopeless. They both remain silent for a few minutes, or possibly hours, Phillip doesn’t know.
“Doctor Palmer has always told me I’d get better.” Phillip eventually whispers, a desperate edge to his voice.
His younger self sits next to him against the cornered wall, sighing. “He’s told us what we wanted to hear. He’s kept us from despairing, yes, but it was a lie nonetheless. Deep down, we’ve always known that.”
Phillip exhales shakily, trying hard to keep the tears at bay. For some unfathomable reason, he refuses to cry in front of his younger self, who seems more composed than himself at the age of nineteen. “B-But if I let myself believe this, that there is no hope, then…” he chokes, “then what do I have to live for?”
“You already know the answer, don’t you?” the boy tells him with an accepting gaze. He takes Phillip’s hand in his. “They’ve thrown us into an isolation cell, confined you with a straightjacket, they’ve given up on us. Doctor Palmer, Mother, Father. The people we thought were our friends. No one cares about us.”
Phillip bites his tongue. He will not cry.
“H-How do you know where we are?” he asks instead to distract his darkening thoughts.
“I know because you know.” his younger self states. “You’re not an idiot. You’re just in denial. You cling to a false hope that someone out there still wishes to see you better for your own sake.”
Phillip feels the tears escaping his eyes. He knows this. He knew all of this before, but he had regained hope at some point. He understands now it was foolish and naive of him.
“But why am I here?” he asks weakly. “I was… I was getting better. I… I behaved.”
“It doesn’t matter what we do.” younger him says with a shake of his head. “Behave, don’t behave. Get better or get worse, no one will ever truly want us. They’ll pretend, to gain something, and then they’ll abandon us. They always do.” The first sob escapes Phillip’s dry lips. The counter-thoughts have decimated with every word from his younger self. It makes sense, doesn’t it? William, James, his own parents. And now Doctor Palmer. They’ve all wanted something from him, used him, and left him to rot.
“There is no hope for me.” Phillip eventually rasps, trembling. “There never will be.”
His younger self sets a hand on his shoulder.
“Now you understand.”
Something cracks inside Phillip’s mind. Ivory. A fissure that he knows will be irreparable – Burgundy – permanent. His cries echo off the damp walls, his heartbroken sobs the only remnants of his apparition. Rosemary.
Time. There is no time.
No one cares.
Chapter 17: Bound No More
Bound No More
The sound of clinking keys. A fiddle against the door. Finally, a loud, rustic groan and an onslaught of light assault Phillip’s senses. He keeps his head lowered, not moving from his position on the floor, but pushing himself back further against the wall and drawing his legs tighter to his chest. Is it the figures again? They’ve come twice since the first time. He knows now they are nurses, but seeing them as only unknown figures is easier. When nothing happens for a couple seconds, he raises his head. His eyes slowly open, squinting carefully at the blinding source of light. He makes out a silhouette. Is he dreaming again? No, there’s only one this time. The figure approaches, steps much more hurried yet cautious than usual. They sound oddly familiar. The figure shields Phillip from the light as it nears, its features becoming clear. Doctor Palmer crouches down in front of Phillip. He says something. Phillip looks at him, but he doesn’t hear his words over the sound of his heart hammering in his ears. Doctor Palmer gently takes ahold of his shoulders. Phillip wordlessly lets himself be pulled up. He doesn’t react as the straightjacket is taken off. He doesn’t resist as he is led back out into the illuminated hallway, and back to his old room. He vaguely registers the retelling of what happened only ten days ago. How Phillip apparently had tried to run away, injuring a nurse in the process. How Doctor Palmer’s protests and outrage had gone unheard, how he had fought tooth and nail to get Phillip out of isolation. A nurse comes in to treat the scratches on his arms, and Phillip is once again disconcerted when he realizes he doesn’t recall inflicting them on himself. When did he do this? He couldn’t move his arms. It must have been before that but he can’t remember. He must have dissociated more than once in there, but how to tell with the constant darkness. Phillip doesn’t utter a single word, and as soon as the nurse leaves, walks to the window to stare outside. It is still summer, so he chooses not to doubt Doctor Palmer’s statement of how long he’d been locked away. What disturbs him is how much longer it had felt. Like an eternity. An unforgivingly long and torturous eternity. Phillip startles as Doctor Palmer gently cups his cheek to turn his gaze back towards him. His eyes show concern and remorse. He asks Phillip to say something. Anything. Phillip doesn’t want to. He doesn’t even want the man’s usually comforting touch. But he now understands what needs to be done. He needs to pretend to be fine. And he will be, if he repeats it to himself enough times. Just like the colors-smell-time mantra. So he meets his doctor’s eye.
“When can I leave?” Phillip asks tonelessly, his voice not as rough as he imagined it would be. Doctor Palmer sighs, and simply shakes his head.
Phillip manages to contain the snarl off his features. He is fine.
“I need to write a letter.” Phillip informs him simply. Doctor Palmer frowns at the request, asking why. Phillip doesn’t answer him, looking just past his ear, waiting. Doctor Palmer sighs, but tells him he’ll get him the material tomorrow. Phillip nods in acknowledgment, and turns back to stare out the window, dislodging the doctor’s hand in the process. Nothing else is said for the remainder of the day, as Phillip continues to languidly observe the freedom he so desperately wishes to gain again, as he himself is quietly and worriedly observed by Doctor Palmer. When the sun has set, Doctor Palmer addresses him again. He tells him he is sorry and wishes he could have gotten Phillip released from isolation immediately. Phillip nods silently. He doesn’t dispel Doctor Palmer’s guilt with empty reassurances. What’s the point? And yet his own guilt stabs at him at the look of shame in his doctor’s eyes. Phillip looks away. Doctor Palmer bids him goodnight.
That night, Phillip remains awake, afraid of closing his eyes to meet the darkness once again.
Ivory. Burgundy. Rosemary. He looks at the clock on the wall. Time. Three-fourteen in the morning.
The next day, Doctor Palmer hands him a blank paper, a fountain pen, and an envelope. Phillip takes the material with a quiet ‘thank you’, and empties his breakfast tray of its untouched plate to use it as a makeshift desk. He begins writing unhesitantly, but nonetheless with a tight grip on the pen.
You were correct. About me, about the abhorrent and selfish way I have been behaving. I have decided it was enough, and have told the doctors as much. However, they are refusing to release me, as they surely wish to continue swindling your money. I therefore write to you with a request, prepared to accept any and all repercussions for my actions. I know I have done nothing to deserve your forgiveness, but consider my following suggestion as the first of many attempts to earn it: if you arrange for my release, I will go back to the University, and will stay there for as long as you wish me to. I will not come back for the holidays, in order for Mother to heal without the thought of me in a hospital and without my daily presence at home to tarnish her state of mind any further. Afterwards, I will move out of the house if you think it necessary.
Awaiting your decision,
As Phillip waits for the ink to dry, he reads the letter again. His jaw clenches in humiliation, pushing it back down. He writes his home address on the envelope, addressing it to his father. Then he folds the letter into the envelope, sealing it with his tongue carefully and handing it to Doctor Palmer. Respectfully, the doctor doesn’t look at the name on the enveloppe, even though Phillip knows he might later. Phillip doesn’t care, as long as the letter arrives to its destination. The doctor tucks the envelope away in his white coat, as well as the fountain pen. Phillip feels irritation at the latter.
“I wouldn’t have stabbed myself with the pen, you know.” he deadpans.
Doctor Palmer’s lips purse in apparent distaste of Phillip’s cynical remark. “I know.” he answers flatly.
“You think I could stab someone else with it.” Phillip states, his irritation growing.
“You very well know I don’t think of you as a violent person, Phillip.” the doctor answers calmly. “These past incidents do not reflect on who you are.”
“Then leave the pen.” Phillip challenges.
Doctor Palmer regards him with compassion. “I will not. Those are the rules of this hospital, of which you are aware.”
“Right. And you don’t go against the rules, do you?” Phillip can’t help but say resentfully, regretting it immediately as it shows his current emotional weakness.
Doctor Palmer’s posture relaxes. “There it is.” He exhales. “You are showing your resentment towards me for your time in the isolation room. This is good.”
Another wave of annoyance flares up in Phillip’s veins. There he goes, talking to him like he is an incompetent child again. IvoryBurgundyRosemaryTimeNineFiftyOne. What does he expect? That Phillip will just talk his feelings out with him and then go back to trusting him again? He abandoned you. He doesn’t care about you, you’re just a project. An experience for his theories. Right. You’re nothing to him!
“Get out.” Phillip says through gritted teeth.
Doctor Palmer’s expression of calm doesn’t falter, and it only serves to aggravate Phillip all the more in this instant. “Phillip, I understand your anger.” he starts slowly. “I’ve failed you, by being unable to protect you from the effects of isolation and darkness, by once again having not been present to shield you from your father’s actions. I understand, but pushing me away will not help you. It–”
“ Help me?” Phillip hisses, red clouding his vision. “Oh, yes, you’ve helped me so well . ” He takes a step closer, a bitter grin beginning to form on his face. “Tell me, what have you been doing with all these notes you’ve been writing down over the years? Are you writing a book, perhaps? A scholar’s journal for future doctors who wish to dabble into the mind of the insane? Please, indulge my curiosity, Doctor . Which is it?” Phillip barely recognizes his own voice, uncharacteristically filled with venom yet tearful at the same time. Doctor Palmer eyes him worriedly. “You have made tremendous progress over the past few months, Phillip.” he tries to placate, ignoring the bait. “But judging from your rapid change of temper over the short period of time you have been released, I fear a relapse. Isolation can play tricks on the mind, it can render your emotions confused. Find the differences among them, feel them, and release them. Don't let them control you . ”
Phillip’s fists clench at his side as he takes another slow step forward, standing barely a few inches from Doctor Palmer. The older man surpasses him in height, but not uncomfortably so. Phillip wants to scream at him. Ivory. He wants to beg to be let out. Burgundy. To cry for mercy. Rosemary. He wants to yell right into the doctor’s face about the sheer despair he had been made to feel in part because of him. Time. He wants to sink into Doctor Palmer’s arms and be made to feel safe again. Almost ten. A long minute passes, during which he feels his features twitch a few times in an attempt to let these desires manifest themselves. Don't let them out. Don't show your weakness. They'll lock you up again. In the end, he ignores all of his mind’s whirlwind of suggestions. He wills any trace of emotion off his face and takes a step back. Pretend. Everything is fine. No one cares what you have to say. He observes dispassionately as Doctor Palmer’s own expression shift from worry to outright frowning concern.
“Phillip.” the doctor begins carefully. “What was that? What went through your mind?”
Phillip breathes in deeply. And exhales. “I believe you were asked to leave, Doctor Palmer.”
“You disparaged your resentment and anger into nothing. Phillip, this is not a healthy way to–”
“Good day, Doctor Palmer.” Phillip cuts in dismissively, already moving away to stand by the window. “Do remember to post my letter.”
A couple minutes pass by without any movement from either men. Finally, Doctor Palmer sighs in defeat.
“Will you eat something today at least?” he requests of the boy, having noticed immediately how even thinner and more frail Phillip had become. When no answer comes forth, he sighs again, clenching his jaw to keep himself from lashing out from what he knows is fear for his– for Phillip. “I will see you tomorrow.”
Phillip doesn’t eat.
Chapter 18: The Cost Of Freedom
The Cost Of Freedom
Four days pass before Phillip learns of his father’s decision regarding his suggestion. Phillip is standing in his usual spot by the window while Doctor Palmer is sitting in his chair, asking questions that Phillip either evades or responds to curtly and seemingly without a care. He is already tense from having once again woken up to the sight of the doctor by his bedside, a gentle hand covering his bandaged forearm. Phillip had refrained from snapping at him, and had simply pulled his arm away.
“I see you haven’t touched your meal, again.” Doctor Palmer starts, rubbing at his eyes tiredly. Phillip watches the movement from the window’s reflection. “Would bringing Eliza’s soup be helpful?” His tone is worried. Tired. Almost desperate. Phillip is reminded of his mother, as the older man is clearly losing sleep because of Phillip.
“Not necessarily, no.” Phillip answers, not a hint of anything in his voice.
Doctor Palmer sigh. It’s a long sigh. “You need to eat. Your body needs the nutrition. You cannot go on like this.”
Phillip doesn’t find a problem with that last statement, refraining from sarcastically suggesting to be force-fed again. He can't take the risk of revealing how it's affected him. “Perhaps you should take your own advice, Doctor.” he says, turning his head to look at him up and down, raising a brow. “You don’t look well.”
Before Doctor Palmer can respond, the door to Phillip’s room opens. It’s the head nurse, as well as another nurse who is carrying a box. Doctor Palmer stands up, looking confused by their presence. Phillip observes the scene silently, waiting for whichever party to speak first.
“Is something the matter?” Doctor Palmer breaks the silence first.
He is ignored in favor of Phillip, who isn't blind to the animosity between the two parties. Odd. “Mr. Carlyle.” the head nurse starts with a slight grudge to his voice. “As of right now, you are no longer a patient of our hospital. Congratulations.” he finishes cynically.
Phillip’s heart skips a beat. He can leave? His father actually accepted his request? He is finally free? He looks over at Doctor Palmer, who wears a shocked expression. It is evident that the man had not been made aware of this decision.
“Who gave that order?” Doctor Palmer demands angrily.
“Higher up. Above both our paygrade.” the head nurse answers with a shrug. He gestures for the other nurse to hand Phillip the box. “Mr. Carlyle, here are some belongings your parents sent over. You may leave your hospital clothes on the bed, and walk out when you are ready.”
Phillip accepts the box, and watches as the two nurses leave, too surprised to say anything. Not that he has anything to tell them anyway. It’s odd, however, as the joy he would have expected to feel at the news of his freedom is only slight. Relief, possibly. But joy, there is no real reason for him to rejoice, is there? It’s only the start of the rest of his miserable life in the real world. He sets the box on the bed.
“Phillip.” Doctor Palmer calls for his attention, an urgency to his voice. Phillip only pays him half a mind as he unfolds the clothes destined for his departure. “Phillip, you are not ready to leave.”
“Yes, so I’ve been told. Repeatedly.” Phillip answers him coldly. “And yet, I am leaving.”
“Listen to me. If you go now, there is no telling how your mind might react.” the doctor continues, rounding the bed to stand next to his patient. “Especially after those ten days in that… that damn room.”
“And whose fault was that?” Phillip asks rhetorically with a humorless chuckle, staring back at the older man. He knows it’s his own fault, but still, he remains angry. “Face the reality, Doctor. You’ve tried, again and again, and the result is still the same. Only now, well, now I understand.”
Doctor Palmer ignores the jab, rather trying to make sense of that last statement. “What do you mean by ‘now I understand’?”
Phillip shakes his head softly, and turns his back to the doctor as he pulls off his hopital cotton shirt. He hears a sharp intake of breath behind him. It makes Phillip’s skin crawl. He’s perfectly aware of the state of his body. It’s vile. James had lied, all those months ago. He’s not perfect at all, just the opposite. Flawed. Deformed. Grotesque. Just a hole. Nothing else, for no one, forever branded as hideous– No, no, no. Not now. Keep it in. Ivory, burgundy, rosemary, time, eleven o’three.
“What did you say?” Doctor Palmer interrupts his thoughts, having heard whispered and familiar words.
Damn. “Nothing.” Phillip responds, quickly buttoning up his new shirt.
“Phillip, what is it you now understand?” the doctor asks him again, deciding not to ask about the reason behind Phillip’s recitation.
“Would you step out of the room, please?” Phillip asks him in return, still facing away. He doesn’t think he can take more judgement on his body were he to take his trousers off in front of the doctor.
“Not until you answer my question.”
“Then turn around.” Phillip demands stubbornly. He is trying not to let his insecurities seep through his words, unsure if he is successful or not.
Doctor Palmer takes a few seconds to answer. “Alright.” He turns around. “I’m listening.”
Phillip sighs in annoyance, and takes his trousers off. “I meant that I now understand what I must do in order to function normally.” It isn’t quite a lie, but he’ll keep his reasoning to himself.
“And what would that be?” the doctor asks.
Phillip turns a quarter to the side to pick up the new pair of trousers off the bed. “Pretend everything is fine until it is.”
Doctor Palmer whirls back around. “Phillip, that is not at all–”
Phillip jumps, quickly bringing his clothes in front of him. “Don’t look at me!” he shouts, bowing his head in embarrassment.
Silence. Phillip doesn’t dare to move, doesn’t dare to look up to see the look of disgust on his f– his doctor’s face.
“Phillip.” Doctor Palmer says softly. “You ought not be ashamed of your body. You’re a very handsome boy. Just… dangerously thin at the moment.”
Phillip still keeps his head down. “Turn around.” he whispers, a crack to his voice. “Please.”
Doctor Palmer wants to reassure Phillip until the boy believes his words, but he knows this subject in this moment will not be well-received. So he complies to Phillip’s request.
He waits until he hears the shuffling of clothes before resuming his previous statement. “Pretending everything is alright is living in denial, Phillip. Nothing good can come from bottling up your emotions. They will eventually burst, and it will be impossible to deny them. From then, impossible to reign them back in.”
Phillip waits until he is decent before answering, not wanting to risk another ridiculous outburst. He sits on the bed to put on his shoes. “I have your word association theory to keep me from doing anything insane, now, don’t I?”
“It’s not enough. Not when you’re–”
“When I’m what ?” Phillip cuts in. “Irreversibly deranged? Dangerously demented? Overwhelmed ?”
“No.” the doctor turns around cautiously, just in case Phillip doesn’t want him to. “Vulnerable.”
Phillip grits his teeth. Vulnerable. Another word for weak .
“Won’t you be glad not to be there when it happens, then.” Phillip says dryly.
Doctor Palmer sits next to Phillip. “What do you mean?” he asks with concern.
“Your services will no longer be needed, Doctor.” Phillip answers neutrally, even though it shoots an arrow of pain into his heart at the prospect of never seeing Doctor Palmer again.
“Is this what you want, or what you think your father wants?”
“Does it really matter?” Phillip stands up, followed by the doctor.
“It does to me.” the older man states gently.
This is it. Cut the cord. Cut it. That’s what you deserve, to be alone. It will happen eventually anyway. You’re in control now.
“It’s what I want.”
A tense moment of silence passes between them. Phillip tells himself he needs to leave, before he says anything that will annul his declaration. So he extends his hand. “I appreciate all that you’ve done for me, and for my family.”
Doctor Palmer glances at the hand, seemingly considering what he can say to this finality. He takes Phillip’s proffered hand, squeezing it, trying to convey his affection through it. He opens his mouth to speak, closes it, and tries again. “You are a good man, Phillip. Remember that.”
Phillip feels his throat constrict, letting his hand drop back to his side. He begins to walk to the door. He stops at the threshold, turning back to see Doctor Palmer watching him with open sorrow.
“I… I hope you and Eliza will be happy together. I know you’ll take good care of her.”
He sees the older man’s Adam’s apple bob as he nods. With one last glance, Phillip walks away, willing his tears to disappear.