After his sister leaves, there is nothing to hold the family together. The bond between mother and son frays, becoming weary with the strain of attempting to fit the broken pieces of the puzzle back together.
So, when that old and tired thread snaps softly in the silence, there is nobody there to catch him as he falls.
And fall he does. Every day, he'll dress in that damn uniform with the tie and the vest and the starched white shirt with its seemingly endless rows of slippery buttons. Every day, he'll smile and laugh, cracking jokes in that familiar, smooth as honey voice of his, and every day his friends will believe the lie.
And every day, he'll come home to an empty house, where he can at last curl in upon himself and cry.
Things aren't okay, Serena, and they're not getting better. It's not getting better.
"Erik, honey, things will be better soon. I'm here for you … you know I love you. I'm here. You don't have to be alone."
She'll whisper sweet nothings in his ear, soothing back his tousled blond curls, gently caressing his pale and clammy skin with those soft and cool hands of hers, hands that had never seen a day of work, never a day of pain.
And then she'll leave, because if there is one thing Erik learns alone in that room day after day, it is that everyone lies. Especially when they say that they aren't going to leave you.
Some days, he feels like a black void, devouring everything into darkness. Maybe he's just devouring himself, but all the same, it feels like too much. These are the days that Erik spends in silence, trying too hard not scream, pushing his food around his plate but never eating a crumb, fiddling with his tie, and staring off into space.
And on a day like that, Erik can't take it anymore. Everything looks perfect from the outside, he thinks hysterically, hot tears streaming down his face. He blinks furiously to clear his vision as he throws open the cabinet door beneath his sink, not caring as it slams against the wall with a thunderous crashing sound. Nobody is there to hear it. Everything looks perfect from the outside, even when you know it's rotten and foul. I look okay on the outside, too. How about on the inside? Erik snatches up a fresh razor, stares wide-eyed at it for a moment as revulsion worms at his gut. Something is clawing up his throat, trying to get out. Erik takes a deep breath – let it out, let me see what is that's so sick and wrong here …
Erik drags the blade across the creamy white flesh of his forearm, glares at that false perfection as crimson blood begins to stain it, rolling down his skin to the crease of his elbow, where it drip drip drips to the tiled bathroom floor. Can you see how rotten it is, when you see me bleed?
"He's doing better, ma'am," the doctor's voice is muted by the heavy wooden door, but Erik is reading his lips. The doctor's face is dispassionate, uncaring, as he delivers a weekly update to a woman who only visits her child that once every seven days. "But he doesn't seem to want to improve. In fact, all he seems to want –"
Is for my sister to return, Erik sighs, closing his eyes and shutting it all out. The purple walls keep closing in on him and he swears, he swears that if they don't let him out soon he's gonna lose his mind completely; just end it then and there no matter what it takes. He isn't sure how, because he doesn't even have a choice on whether or not he eats, what with the IV drip stuck in his arm. It's in the crease of his elbow, not so far away from the scars, all those nasty, ugly, ridged scars that leap out to catch the eye, flaming in livid reds. Erik reaches out with his other hand and strokes them, wishing Serena would just come home, 'cause then everything would be okay.
It's a good thing, Erik thinks, that nobody cares, because if someone did, they'd have noticed something was wrong. But nobody ever does, and he hopes (or maybe he fears) that nobody ever will.
Time goes by. He still goes to school. He still comes home. He cuts himself, now, all the time. Nights are the hardest. It's just too damn quiet without her cheery chatter, her storm of friends. The afternoons aren't great, either, what with all that pent up hate and pain. But the cutting lets it out, lets the blood and the rage out. He keeps cutting. He gets better at it. But it doesn't seem to do as much. He still feels the darkness eating at him. Can't get it out. Have to get it out. Get out, get out, GET OUT!
Then, he slices too deep. He bleeds, too much, bandages himself up. He feels sick. Dizzy. Has to clean the blood up, and the harsh bleach smell makes him vomit. He cleans that up, too. Mustn't let them know, he tells himself hazily, stumbling towards the trashcan to throw it all away. Mustn't let them see the rotten darkness, gnawing at my insides, hiding under perfect cold outsides. Mustn't mustn't mustn't.
He falls to his knees. Tries to get up again. Can't.
Erik curls up in a ball on his side. He cries, great heaving sobs that leave him gasping for breath. I'm not okay. Why doesn't anybody see that?
His mother smells the cleaning supplies. She finds him on the floor, his arms covered in his own blood as it drip drip drips on the white tiled floor.
The days are endless, here. There's not a lot to entertain him. His mother doesn't drop by more than once a week, and Serena still hasn't come home. Erik stares at the purple walls, and he thinks.
Maybe the medication is actually helping. Sometimes, Erik can fight the dark off. Keep it at bay. It's still there, flickering at the edges of the firelight, creeping in on the corners of his vision. It's always there, watching, waiting … but Erik just ignores it, now. And his mind is getting clearer.
It has to be. Erik doesn't know what he would be doing here, otherwise. All he has to do now for entertainment is wonder. About the past, the present, the future. All of it. None of it. He dreams, too, with wide waking eyes, of the day that Serena walks in through that door. Often, he just stares at it, as if by force alone he can make her come back.
"Oh god! Erik!" she shrieks, her hands flying up to cover her mouth. She can't look away from what she didn't see before: her son. Then she begins to hyperventilate. "Oh god oh god oh god …" she whispers, gasps, chokes upon the words, and then she's running out the door. Erik wonders if she has left him again, but he hears through the walls her frantic phone call.
Ah. The ambulance. Maybe that is a good idea. Erik passes out.
The paramedics are alarmed by how thin he is. How his shoulders burst through frail, papery skin like the broken wings of a dying baby bird. They carry him away.
You know, maybe I don't need Serena to come back to be okay again. Erik takes walks, on the rare occasions that they deem him strong enough to do so. There are gardens on the roof, and that's where he chooses to go. A nurse watches him, just as other nurses watch their own charges, as he meanders through the hydrangeas. The sun is obscured by thick grey clouds that rumble and threaten rain, but Erik tilts his face up to the light anyway.
Yeah. I'll be okay.