I Think You Might
(Disclaimer: Mysterious Skin and all related properties belong to Gregg Araki and Scott Heim.)
Neil has good days, and Neil has bad days. On his good days, he's been known to actually be pretty good. On his bad days…
On his bad days, he's always really, really bad.
Those were four conclusions I came to within two weeks of him and Wendy moving in with us. When Jay had told me they'd be living with us, he'd reminded me at least five times that rent would be cut in half, but there wasn't much he could say to keep me from being pissed off. Sure, Wendy was all right, but Neil… fucking Neil… He was a self-centered little prick with a superiority complex I couldn't begin to wrap my head around. He was as of that day a recovering cocaine addict fresh out of rehab who in the past had been known to get head injuries while sucking guys off in alleyways for money.
Yeah. That person had a superiority complex. It's not hard to understand why I was so fucking confused.
Still, technically it was Jay's place and, despite the fact that he seemed to get his kicks off of pissing me the hell off, I couldn't really say no to him anymore than I could afford to move somewhere else. Jay was my best friend, had been since high school, and he'd never truthfully done me wrong before. I'd even go so far as to say that I loved the guy.
Well, maybe not that far (not out loud). Neil had already accused me of being gay for him at just about every encounter we'd had. Motherfucker.
(…even though maybe I was… just a little bit…)
Anyway, the two of them moved in, Wendy in Jay's room and Neil on the couch. I made sure I wasn't around that day so I could avoid helping move their s hit while Neil plastered his cocky little smirk across his mouth. Jackass. Still, I could only avoid him until that evening when I ran out of shit to do and ultimately had to go home.
He was sitting on the couch with a cigarette burning between his fingers, and I couldn't help but admit that he looked way better than the last time I'd seen him, back when he was greasy and thin and in the throws of withdrawal. He raised his eyebrows at me, and I did my best to keep my expression neutral. Unfortunately, concentrating solely on my expression usually leads to staring, and leave it to Neil to always notice.
"See something you like?" he asked, smirking.
"The opposite, actually," I replied, pathetically unable to come up with anything better.
"Whatever," Neil said with a shrug and offered me a cigarette.
That was a good day for him.
The next night, Wendy had the night off work so we threw a "Welcome to Your New Shithole!" party on behalf of Wendy and Neil. It was Jay's idea, of course, but I kept any disagreements to myself since there was plenty of beer. I decided to get blackout drunk and just have a good fucking time, and it seemed that everyone else were of the same sentiment.
Two hours and several crunched cans later, I witnessed Neil on a bad day.
A plate shattered against the wall, and I turned to see Neil staring at the falling shards like they had done him some great injustice. He was stumbling drunk, swaying on his own two feet as if he no longer understood how gravity worked, and his eyes…
His eyes looked nearly black.
"Neil?" Wendy questioned, even though I knew she could see that he was for the moment not with us (if I could see it, then she could definitely see it).
"Why'd you…" he started off and then fell into mumbling incoherently. Wendy pressed her hand to his shoulder in an effort to bring him back to the land of the living or at least the land of the sober, but his rage boiled back up instead.
He screamed and thrashed, elbow slamming into Wendy's solar plexus. He scrambled to the wall, stepping on the crushed porcelain in bare feet.
He crouched in the corner and cried like a child.
We stood around him like judges upon altars, and his scraped feet bled all over the tile.
The next morning, he didn't remember a moment of it.
"What the fuck are you talking about?" he asked with a roll of his eyes, even though he clearly had discovered the injuries to his feet by the way he had t hem propped up on the coffee table and bandaged (albeit lazily).
"You just like to conveniently forget the things you do, don't you?" I responded bitterly. It agitated me that he hadn't even questioned why he woke up unable to walk and cared even less when a reason presented itself. Whenever I got blackout drunk, my first question in the morning was always, always, "What did I do last night?" Someone who didn't concern themselves with that question was someone I had to worry about…
Then again, it was Neil McCormick, the boy who never flinched when inflicting harm on himself, like he couldn't feel pain or at least didn't know how to.
I didn't bring it up again and tried to return to my life with him in it as little as possible. I went to work and band practice. I partied it up with friends when I had time. I bought cigarettes and Chinese take-out, and I got my ear pierced a second time. I called my dad and my older brother. I visited my mom in prison. Life continued…
…but it seemed that, no matter how I tried, I couldn't get that image of Neil hunched in the corner among broken pieces of porcelain, and crying like he'd never had one kind hand upon him, out of my head.
It was solidified there in my brain up until the night I came home two weeks later to a new one of him curled up in the bathroom floor sobbing.
He looked up at me with wild, red-rimmed eyes and quickly swiped at the tears to make them disappear. Apparently he was more self-conscious about them when he was sober. "… the fuck're you doing home? Wendy said…" he said, voice cracking treacherously to his expression.
"Got off work early," I said awkwardly. "Where…"
"Working late… Oh, and Jay went bowling with some guys… uh… Ian-something and his friends." He wouldn't look me directly in the eyes, deciding rather to stare at the spot over my shoulder until he pressed his back against the wall (he wasn't wearing a shirt, I noticed) and wrapped his arms around his knees. He sighed.
"What's going on?" I asked, leaning on the door jam.
I expected him to throw some lewd insults my way, tell me how it was none of my business and to leave him alone, but instead he just shook his head.
"I don't know," he said quietly. "I was just… gonna take a shower and…" He swallowed and looked near the brink of tears again. "I was fine, but then it just… slammed into me like a fuckin'… Nothin'. Forget it. Nevermind."
I don't know what compelled me to stick around and take a seat next to him, but he didn't say anything when I slid down the wall and plopped down beside him. He took a cigarette when I offered him one.
"The fuck!" he coughed. "Are these flavored?"
"Yeah, I like the smell," I said.
He smirked, though it was weaker than usual. "You still think you're straight."
"Fuck you," I grumbled, but it was lacking energy as well, so I changed the subject. "What was it? This thing that slammed into you?"
"A guy's dick."
"Very funny, you jackass, but I'm not-"
"…or the memory of one anyway."
I clamped my mouth shut because I realized that he was serious.
"It's weird…" he said, blowing smoke towards the ceiling, voice closed up into his throat so that I could barely understand him. "I was always so good at shutting out all of this shit, and when I couldn't do it on my own I'd have the coke to do that for me, but… now it's all surface, all the time. It's like the first time every time, and…" he sighed again.
"I get that," I nodded, and he looked at me skeptically and with a little surprise. I continued, "I got into coke back in high school after my mom got locked up in prison. I didn't want to feel anything anymore, you know?"
"What'd she do?"
"Killed my stepdad. She's… got some mental problems."
"Yeah, I didn't like feeling all screwed up and out of place when I came to live with my dad and realized I didn't really have anyone to relate to. Dad barely knew me, and my brother was never around because he was a sports guy, you know? I felt lost and fucking… angry all the time, so I started listening to punk and partying with the bad kids and just let my life spin out of control. Then I met Jay, and he set me straight. He told me I'd be as worthless as I felt if I kept doing what I was doing."
"So, you just quit? You just quit cold turkey."
"Yeah… but…" I paused, rubbing my neck, taking a moment to decide whether to tell him or not. I figured since I'd already started, I might as well continue. I pushed up the sleeve of my jacket to show him a scar running all the way up the inside of my forearm. "I tried to kill myself. Got locked up in an institution for a while…"
He traced the scar with his index finger, and my skin prickled under the ice cold touch.
"That's pretty ballsy," he said, "trying to kill yourself that way. Did it hurt?"
"Yeah, but when you're that lowdown, you figure you deserve it."
His head snapped up then, eyes wide and bright and red-rimmed and swollen, and it was like he'd never seen me before. He had this tragic expression on his face, this haunting expression that I just couldn't look away from, and I couldn't help but wonder what I'd said.
"Did you deserve it?" he asked, but it didn't really sound like it was directed to me.
"I don't know," I admitted. "Sometimes I think so." My gaze was slowly drawn to his own scar on the side of his head, and I remembered the crimson word slut etched into his arm and how it had infuriated me because of how much it reminded me of myself.
There was always a little piece of me that hated myself, and I began to wonder if that was why I hated Neil.
At that moment though, I couldn't even think of hating him because he was clearly hating himself enough for the both of us.
"I misjudged you," I found myself saying.
"Not completely," he said and pushed his lips onto mine.
When it was over and I opened my eyes, he had left the bathroom.
It was probably after that night that I became a little obsessed. Maybe there was some little part of me that thought witnessing him recover and relapse would make me feel better about the nights I thought about buying coke again or carving up my arm.
…or maybe Neil's particular madness was just fascinating to me.
It definitely wasn't the kiss though.
He was there the next evening when I got home, laughing at something on television and eating cereal.
"Hey," he said casually after swallowing. "Jay said he'd be late today. Wendy's asleep."
I shrugged, digging my hand into the box of cereal and pulling out a handful to munch on. I felt like Jay and Wendy were constantly leaving me alone with him.
"Have you been sitting here all day?" I asked, trying to sound annoyed. I didn't want him to think that anything had changed between us.
"Nope, I also got a beer and took a piss."
"You need to get a job, lazy bastard."
"I've been looking."
"Well, I guess for you there's always the street corner."
Sometimes, I really should just shut my mouth.
He lowered his eyes to the bowl and didn't say anything for a while. I tried not to feel guilty, but it didn't really work.
"Where do you work?" he asked after I had started on my third handful.
"It's a restaurant a few blocks from here. I've known the owner for a long time."
"Do you think that… maybe you could get me a job?"
I raised my eyebrows, and he just looked back down into his cereal. "I guess…" I shrugged.
He stared and stared into the cereal, and his expression grew harder and more sour and harder and more sour, and all of a sudden he was chucking the bowl across the room where it clattered to the floor, leaving a mess of sugary milk in its wake.
"What the hell is your problem?" I shouted, jumping to my feet.
"I hate cereal," he whimpered and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes.
I rolled my eyes and stepped toward him. "Doesn't mean you can just throw it across the room like a toddler. Clean that shit up!"
He dropped his hands to glare at me, and his eyes were red-rimmed and brimming again, but he seemed to be holding it back. "…sorry…" he mumbled and crouched down to pick up the pieces.
Fuck, I thought as curiosity overcame me. "Why do you hate cereal?" I asked, and I made sure to sound tired and fed up so he wouldn't realize how much I cared.
"I don't… I t just made me think about something else."
"What was that?" I asked, taking a step forward, and I couldn't mask how much I wanted to know.
"Nothing. Forget about it."
A long moment passed between us.
After that moment passed, I knelt down and started to help him. He looked up at me, lips parted slightly and holy shit, I totally understood why he could whore himself out so easily. For a guy, he was fucking beautiful.
…not that I was interested.
It had nothing to do with that kiss.
Speaking of that kiss… "Um… why'd you…"
He smirked, eyes glittering, and I realized he'd read my mind. "You wanted me to."
"No I didn't! Why would I want a kiss from you, you faggot?"
Maybe that was a little too defensive to be convincing.
He laughed though and said only, "my mistake, Sid Vicious."
If he noticed that I didn't spike my hair or wear my collar around my next the next day, the next, and the next, he didn't call me on it. Surprising really, since that seemed like something he would do, but Neil was just full of surprises.
Okay, well maybe I abandoned the punk rock look after that (mostly anyway), but it wasn't because he had any sort of pull or power over me. The band had broken up and it just took too much effort to maintain. Besides, wearing a ring with the anarchy symbol engraved on it seemed a little counterproductive when I was working for the man.
Neil had nothing to do with it. He was a background character in my life, nothing more. I wasn't even the least bit interested. When he started bussing tables at the restaurant where I worked, I barely gave him a passing glance.
…and if he was constantly on my mind, he didn't have to know that.
I didn't even ask where he ran off to in August. That's how not interested I was.
He didn't have to know that relief quaked through me when Wendy told me he'd gone home to Hutchinson for the week and he'd be back so I didn't have any reason to celebrate.
I pretended not to notice that I recognized his smell when I fell asleep on the couch.
One afternoon, while Jay and I were eating lunch together for once, he said something.
"I feel like we never hang out anymore," he said, laughing. "Sorry man."
I blinked and chewed and didn't admit that I hadn't really noticed as of recently. I'd been jealous and spiteful at first when he started dating Wendy, but by that point it was almost weird to think of one without the other… Naturally, he'd be busy with other things, and I was busy too…
"You're always unavailable when you're in a relationship," I said with a shrug. "I'm used to it."
"Usually you're not so cool about it."
"When have I ever been 'not cool' about it?"
"You broke my last girlfriend's nose."
"That bitch deserved it!" I shouted defensively, and then I realized that I was getting defensive, and then I realized why I was getting defensive and…
I used to be in love with Jay.
It wasn't so much that Neil had been right about me all along (well, partly it was that), but that he would probably know I knew the moment I walked through the door and made eye contact.
I was embarrassed just thinking about it.
Then it got worse.
My stupid brain had the nerve to go, "Say, why don't you get hard for him anymore?"
I went back to work with a hell of a lot on my mind. I thought back on the time I'd spent in the institution, thinking of Jay and how he'd gotten rid of my drugs and saved me when I was bleeding to death. I remembered how I'd idolized him t hen, thinking he was the only person in the world that I could count on. I remembered how I'd wake up from dirty dreams about him or think about him when I'd fuck girls and then pretend the thoughts never happened, and I remembered how Jay never realized for a second that I was completely infatuated.
Then I thought of Neil who was nothing like Jay (which was probably why Wendy liked Jay so much). Even high or sick with withdrawal or weighted down with secrets I couldn't begin to decode, he could read me like a fucking book, could read me better than even I could. He really had nothing to offer me other than insults and a shit-eating grin. Most of the time he was tolerable enough, just a half-stranger sleeping on the couch that just happened to have the darkest blue eyes I'd ever seen and the kind of disastrous beauty reserved for legends and works of art and shit like that… I didn't have any reason to like him other than that he was aesthetically pleasing…
…but actually, I did have a reason…
When I looked at him, I saw so much of myself that it made me sick, and the desperate part of me that longed to get better became obsessed with fixing him and by proxy fixing me. It was selfish and kind of narcissistic in its own weird way, but it was true.
Hey, at least I wanted to help him.
It was actually kind of a good thing I came to that conclusion too because I realized he wasn't at work when I returned… and no one knew where he had gone. A girl I worked with named Kayla claimed that he just freaked out and left.
I knew from the heavy drop in my gut that Neil must have been experiencing another bad day.
Claiming an emergency, I left. I looked for him but didn't find him and ended up back at the apartment to fret alone and wonder if I should call Wendy or Jay or the police or someone…
That was when the door banged open, and there he stood. He was out of breath and sweaty and looking wrecked and clutching something in his fist.
"You're here," he said, accusatory.
"I live here," I replied, trying to remain calm and casual. He looked ready to go flying off the handle into a rage or tears or something, and I wasn't about to be on the receiving end of it.
He shifted from foot to foot and looked around, chewing on his bottom lip, acting as though he didn't really have the right to come inside the apartment where he lived. He was shaking slightly.
I had to ask, though I barely managed to, "Are you high?"
To my horror, he revealed a dime bag that he'd had crushed into his hand and murmured, "not yet."
The craving banged up against my teeth, and all I could do was stare for a moment. That hateful part of me whispered that it was a good idea.
Go for it.
I remembered how Jay had taken my stash and dumped it, claiming, "one day, you'll thank me for this."
I hadn't thanked him yet. I made a mental note to do so.
"Give it over," I told Neil, holding out my hand.
"Get your own," he replied, taking a step back into the hallway. He looked like a terrified puppy dog. His arm twitched like a tiny part of him wanted to flush it himself and go running as far from the cocaine as physically possible.
"Neil," I said, cautiously taking a step forward. "I know the craving is bad, but you can't let it get you. You'll be losing a lot of progress." Another step. Another. He didn't move. "You don't want to do this."
His face reddened as he held back tears. "No." He shook his head to emphasis.
"C'mon, man, you don't want to go back down that road. There's nothing for you down that road, Neil," I said, and I took another step.
A single tear managed to slip out of the corner of his eye. "Just one hit-"
"No way. You know you can't do it just once."
"FUCK!" he shouted, tossing to the floor, hands shaking violently. "This is bullshit!"
I knelt down and picked up the dime bag depositing it into my pocket for the moment, and I held my hands up in defense.
"I'm fucking tired… I'm fucking tired of feeling this way! All these goddamn ups and downs all the goddamn time… having this shit just start flashing before my eyes when I see anything that reminds me of it even a little! Everyone keeps saying I'm better, but I've never been so out of control in my life! I can't take it anymore!" He was shouting at me, but it didn't feel directed at me, and all of a sudden, his rage tapered off. "I hate this shit… I don't want to feel anything… Why can't things just be like they were before? Fuck…"
He deflated before my eyes into a fit of messy tears.
"Come on," I said gently, grabbing his wrist. I led him into the bathroom and handed him a towel to wipe his face on, and then I made him watch while I flushed his stash. It pained me almost as much as it pained him, but I still said, "one day, you'll thank me for this."
He dropped his forehead to the back of my shoulder, and I could still feel his entire frame trembling with yet un-cried tears.
After a moment, I couldn't help but ask (because I never could, it seemed), "so what happened?"
He sniffed, wiping his nose on the towel. "Don't worry about it…" he mumbled.
"Don't give me that shit. What happened?"
He let out a shuddered breath. "I was at work… and uh… I saw him…"
"Who?" I asked, furrowing my brows.
He sniffed again, hesitating, and just when I thought he wasn't going to tell me, he said it.
"I uh… I saw the guy who raped me."
That last bad night in the bathroom came crashing back to me, the way he had talked, what he had said…
Dumbly, I asked, "well… what'd you do?"
"I… ran away… like a fucking coward… and I tried to pretend it didn't happen, tried to block it out, but… I couldn't."
I turned around to face him then, and I realized that my hands were shaking too. "Wanna go kill him?" I offered, and I didn't let him realize that I wasn't joking at all.
He shook his head, not looking up. "Wouldn't make any difference. Wouldn't make me forget it. Wouldn't undo what was done any more than killing coach would."
"Oh… uh… Coach, my uh- little league coach… he uh, molested me when I was eight."
Neil never seemed to have any good surprises… only really horrible, sad ones.
"Jesus H. Christ," I whispered. Neil had mentioned to me once that I didn't understand a single thing that he had been through. Once again, he had been right… and I'd been so fucking stupid not to notice it. "I'm…"
"Don't say you're sorry," he growled, fingers clenching and unclenching. "I'm not some charity case you need to feel sorry for. I'm still… I'm still alive, damn it. Saying sorry… feeling sorry… all it does is validate what they fucking did, and I can't do that to Brian."
I didn't ask who Brian was. Instead, I reached out and squeezed his shoulder and said, "Fine then. I'm not sorry. It still sucks though."
He snorted halfheartedly. "Yeah, it does. It really does."
…and he kissed me again, slowly… innocently. It was almost like I was being kissed by a little boy… and I wanted to cry.
It was over as suddenly as it started, but he lingered just a hair's breadth away from my face, panting lightly, his air mixing with my air.
"Most guys I've fucked were old enough to be my dad," he informed me.
"Is there a reason you're telling me this?" I asked, nearly breathless (how pathetic!).
"My shrink told me that I needed to change my lifestyle… I think I'll start with you."
He smirked. "Already did that, Not-Sid Vicious. You wanna fuck?"
My eyes widened, and my body started screaming, Oh, God, yes, you haven't been fucked in months!
…and I said, "No."
He looked confused and a little offended.
"No one's told you 'no' before," I explained quietly. "To change your lifestyle, somebody's gotta teach you that you can't just do whatever the hell you want. You also need to learn that you can't solve all of your shit with sex."
He whimpered like I'd smacked him across the face. "You don't have to be such a dick about it," he said.
"Yeah, I do," I said and put my arms around him.
We stood in the bathroom, holding each other for what felt like hours… and then he came to a realization, a realization he hadn't realized before that moment, and I'm sure he felt stupid for not realizing it before.
"You… might be kind of in love with me," he said.
"I might be," I agreed, "you twat."
The following days were better and better.
I made sure of that.