CHAPTER ONE - DISCOVERY
It was Dan's 20th birthday and his parents had decided they wanted to throw him a big party with lots of family and friends - Dan's idea of hell, basically. He hated social situations, especially ones that involved his many elderly aunts. Phil drove him down a few hours before the hellish event was due to begin, picking up his own parents along the way. They sat in the back of the car looking confused by the music playing from the stereo and by Dan and Phil's conversation which made little sense to them and seemed to be about llamas.
When they arrived at the little house, Dan's mum was stood outside, waving madly at them. Dan rolled his eyes and muttered something about embarrassment under his breath, making Phil snort with laughter. Dan got out and was submerged in hugs and kisses and squeals of 'I've missed you' and 'I love you' as well as 'you need a haircut'. Dan stood rolling his eyes and sighing theatrically, but returned the hug and gently reassured his mum while Phil and his family got out of the car. It was only her last comment that produced a negative reaction in Dan, which was a surprise to everyone, especially Phil who had never seen Dan be that rude to anyone, let alone his own mum.
"You've got so skinny, darling," she fussed, looking down at Dan's stomach. "Have you been forgetting to eat?"
"Mum, I'm fat for god's sake, I eat loads!" Dan snapped, yanking away from her. "God, you're so embarrassing." Dan flounced away from her, storming up the steps and into the house, not even bothering to shut the door behind him. Phil looked apologetically at Dan's mum, and patted her arm awkwardly before rushing after Dan.
"Dan?" He called, pushing open the door.
"What?" Dan snapped, spinning around. He was already halfway up the stairs and looked incredibly stroppy.
"C'mon, what are you doing?" Phil said, crossing the hallway and grabbing his wrist. "Your mum is pleased to see you; she hasn't seen you in months. She's organised this all for you, and you're throwing it in her face over one comment! She wasn't attacking you Dan, she's just fussing like parents do. You were pretty rude to her...that's not you at all."
As always, Phil and his huge disappointed looking eyes had the power to make Dan feel guilty. He sighed and walked slowly back down the stairs, reaching the bottom just as his mum and Phil's parents came in the front door.
"Sorry, Mum," Dan said sheepishly, kissing her on the cheek. "I'm just kind of hungry and tired, and grumpy."
"Oh it's okay, sweetie," she smiled and patted his arm. "If you're hungry that's brilliant, I made you a cake! Chocolate too, your favourite! I know how much you love food, especially CHOCOLATE food!" Dan's heart sank to rock bottom as he followed his mum into the kitchen, the Lester's close behind. Oh no. Oh god. So many calories. So much fat and sugar. His mum beamed with pride as Phil's mum complemented how good the cake looked, and she proudly gave everyone a slice of the cake, setting the biggest slice in front of Dan, kissing him on the forehead as she did so and wishing him happy birthday.
Everyone started eating the cake, remarking on how good it tasted. Dan lifted a forkful to his mouth as his mum looked at him expectantly, excitedly. He put it in his mouth, and chewed and chewed, trying not to choke on the sweet, soft cake. Before he could stop himself he had swallowed the mouthful and eaten the rest of the cake. He didn't have time to think and to realise what it would mean, and then it was all gone and inside his sickening body. He stared at the crumbs on the empty plate, feeling sick to his stomach. He was revolting. Why had he eaten all of that cake? He was such a pig. Muttering an excuse, Dan flew from the table and ran upstairs, slamming the bathroom door shut behind him.
He had to get it out, before it made him even fatter than he already was. He had to stop himself being such a hideous, fat lump. He was on the floor with his fingers down his throat, ashamed of himself both for being fat and for what he was doing. He knew that he should know better. He knew what he did wasn't healthy or normal...but he just couldn't stop. Every time he ate, he hated himself and it always ended with him puking his guts out. It was the only way he could feel content that he was at least doing something to make himself better. Although not mentally better.
Using the spare toothbrush his mum kept there for him, he quickly brushed his teeth and splashed cold water on his face, flushing the evidence of his shame away before he went back downstairs and pretended that he wasn't a mess.
Dan was with his dad in the kitchen, having a beer. He'd been working up the courage to tell his dad about his final exam all night long...he knew how he would take it. Now seemed like the only opportunity - they were alone at last and his dad was sort of on the way to being drunk so might be more forgiving.
"Uh...I...I sortoffailedmyfinalexamthisy ear," Dan garbled, fiddling nervously with his t-shirt. "But it's okay, it really is. I can redo the exam in August, and I'll get it right that time, I swear." He swallowed hard, knowing that the news hadn't been accepted well. His dad glared at him, a long hard glare and then he scoffed.
"Like hell you will," he said. "We've been over and over this with you so many times, Daniel. You had to take a year out to resit your a-levels too; you'd think you'd learn from that. Clearly you didn't and you've just spent this year bumming around like usual. Your brother's never failed a test, why can't you be more like him? I tell you though, mark my words boy, when you drop out of university because you aren't good enough, don't you come running to me for cash. I did my best by you boy, and you keep letting me down. Time after time." Shaking him head and muttering to himself, he left, his cruel words bearing down on Dan.
The thing was, Dan knew that everything his dad had said was true. He was a failure, and there was no way he was going to pass that exam, ever. He just didn't have the motivation, however hard he tried and however much he wished he could be different. He was just so screwed up. Dan was blinded by tears as he left the kitchen and hurried upstairs, glad that everybody had congregated in the living room so he could get away before breaking down. He went into his old room which was now used as a store room, and knelt down by where the bed was.
The bed was piled high with boxes now that it no longer needed to harbour the failure of a son, but Dan knew his hiding place would not have been discovered. He pushed his fingers under the bed and scrambled around until he found the groove in the wooden floor board. He flicked the flaking wood up, so that a section of it folded away. The secret hiding place wasn't big - it was just a slight gap where the wood had snapped and bent. It could only hold a small, thin object. Like a piece of paper, a credit card...or a razor blade. Dan picked it up, and leant back against the bed as he looked at the shiny blade.
He had some at home, hidden in his room so Phil wouldn't find them. He hadn't brought one with him - he hadn't expected to feel the need at his own birthday party. His hands were shaking as he pushed up the sleeve of his shirt, revealing the scars and healing cuts from the distant and not so distant past. He took a deep, shaky breath as he drew the blade across his skin, watching as the blood pooled on his arm, bright and red. One, two, three. Marks of shame and pain. He was drawing the blade across his skin like a musician with a violin, but instead of making music he was making twisted, bitter scars. Self-expression, gone wrong.
Dan knew that people always want to know 'why?' and what it feels like. Dan cut because it made him feel so real and because it gave him a little buzz of excitement and because he was in control. He cut because it hurt. He cut to let out the anger and the pain and the fear. He cut because it hurt less that the emotional pain. And as for what it felt like? It felt like all the
good things in the world and all of the bad things mixed together. It felt like flying and falling at the same time. Laughing and crying. Hitting and hugging. Kissing and biting. It was an intoxicating, heady mixture of pain and freedom. He never intended to cut. It always happened in a mad frenzy, a crazy rush of emotions that he just had to get rid of. And each time, he'd promise himself that it was the last time. That he would get clean and stop, once and for all. But then something always sent him hurtling back to rock bottom. Something always left him reaching for the blade, craving the sting and the pain and the blood, craving the deep relief that came with it.
He didn't want to be afraid. He didn't want the only anaesthetic he had to be something that left him dead inside and broken and scarred on the outside. He cried himself to sleep every night, ashamed of himself for his cutting and his purging and his self-hatred. He didn't want to be alone and he didn't want to be afraid. He didn't want to die either, which people would probably assume he did. He just wanted to not be him. He just wanted to be fixed; to run right again, like he used to when he was younger and happy.
Dan sucked in a breath as he quickly wiped the blood from his arm. Already he felt pathetic, weak and stupid. He was such an idiot, such a twat. A deplorable human being who didn't deserve to have friends like Phil. Phil. If Phil ever found out, he would be devastated. Kind, sweet, good Phil. Oh if only he knew how much Dan wanted to be like him...so perfect. But Dan was not Phil and he never would be - he was pathetic, weak and broken whereas Phil was strong. So strong. Dan pushed his shirt sleeve down and wiped his tears away, bracing himself to go downstairs and make conversation with people he didn't even like.
Dan was lounging on a bean bag as his mum said goodbye to all of the guests. Him and Phil were staying the night because Phil had had a couple of beers, and his parents were getting the night bus home. Dan was playing on his Gameboy that he had found on a bookshelf, glad the party was drawing to a close...he was in the mood to go to bed, and cry beneath his pillow. When he came back downstairs he'd mingled for an hour or so, and then his dad had come up and told him he was sorry, he'd just been taken aback. He told Dan he was proud of him anyway, because he'd done great things on Youtube and blah blah blah. It was too late; because Dan could feel his cuts rubbing against his shirt...it was too late to take the words back when they had already made their mark.
A few people were still in the living room, but they were talking amongst themselves, so weren't paying attention to the silent birthday boy in the corner. Phil came in from seeing his parents off, and flopped down next to Dan on the beanbag, watching him play Pokémon.
"You okay?" He asked in Dan's ear, sensing a level of unease about his friend.
"Fine," Dan said, yawning. He threw the game down on the floor next to him and stretched. "I can't wait for everyone to be gone so I can go to sleep...what? What, Phil?"
Phil had frozen suddenly, his face a mask of shock and pain. It was only then, staring at his friend's horrified eyes, that Dan realised his shirt sleeve had fallen down as he stretched. He fumbled for the cuff, yanking it down over his damaged arm, panic shooting through him. Oh my god. He'd kept it secret for so long, how could it just all collapse now, because of a moment of carelessness? This couldn't be happening...how humiliating.
"Dan..." Phil said, his voice a mixture of pain and anger. His eyes were flashing dangerously.
"Leave it, Phil." Dan snapped, wrapping his fingers up around his cuff. "It's nothing." He spoke a little too loudly, a couple of the women on the sofa glanced over, concerned.
"Kitchen now, Daniel," Phil growled in his ear and Dan stood up quickly, for two reasons: one, Phil the pacifist had growled at him and two, Phil had used his full name. He was pissed...and with reason. Dan knew that Phil
was going to have his say whether they were alone or not, and Dan was grateful he'd at least been given the option. Dan shuffled through to the kitchen, attempting to smile at people as he passed them.
He leant nervously against the kitchen worktop as Phil rounded on him. He was sure that Phil was going to tell him what a freak he was, what a loser, what a messed up weirdo. He'd probably ask him to move out. He'd hate him. And then he'd tell everyone and they would all hate him too. But instead of yelling hateful things at him, Phil just grabbed his sleeve and rolled it up, staring at the cuts and scars that lined Dan's arm. Dan looked away, ashamed, as Phil yanked up the other sleeve to reveal the same story. Dan could feel his eyes filling up with tears of shame and panic. He wanted to speak, to explain himself, but the word wouldn't come.
Phil was silent and reeling inside as he rolled the sleeves back down, covering up his friend's secret shame. If only he had looked closer, those scars wouldn't have been so hidden. Phil was furious - with Dan, with himself, and with anyone who had ever made Dan feel bad enough to mutilate himself. But he knew that he couldn't cause a scene here, on Dan's birthday, in Dan's house, and he needed time to think about the best approach to try and help his best friend who he loved with everything he had.
So Phil just wrapped his arms around Dan, and pulled him as close as he could, holding on to the trembling frame as he ran his hands through Dan's hair. Dan relaxed into Phil, sobbing gently into his neck at the reassuring contact - Phil wasn't shouting or pushing him away, he was comforting him. When Phil pulled away, Dan felt sad, but Phil had crossed the kitchen to the medicine cupboard - he knew where everything was, he'd stayed over so many times. Phil pulled out the first aid kit, a bottle of Savalon spray and some anti-septic wipes, carrying them back over to Dan.
Dan tried to move away - he didn't deserve this. He didn't deserve his cuts to be treated and bandaged, he deserved them to be open and bleeding. He deserved to hurt. But Phil just grabbed his upper arm and held the boy fast, glaring at him.
"Don't push me, Dan." He said quietly, as he began to roll up the sleeve again.
"No." Phil said. "I need to clean these, or they'll get infected or something. Now stay still, Dan, or I'll be cross." Dan shut his eyes, his lips trembling as Phil gently wiped the congealed blood off the cuts, sprayed them and quickly wrapped the bandage he held around Dan's arm. When he was done, Phil put everything back away and then pulled Dan back into his arms, resting his head on Dan's.
"We're going to talk about this when we get home." Phil promised firmly and Dan didn't protest. He had known straight away that Phil wasn't just going to ignore it and hope it would go away. He just clung tighter to Phil, and wished desperately that when he woke in the morning it could all be a bad dream.
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