His hands trembled. Water dripping down a red-splotched face. Breath coming, going, too fast. Chest heaving to the beat of panic. They stared. Cleared their throats. Made some suggestions, but they were wrong. He expected better. He was not expecting this. His father could only suggest seeing a therapist. Like he needed to be fixed. Like he was broken.

He stood back from the mirror, from the basin. Put down the scissors.

Calm down. Message Sam. Sam will help.

He dashed from the bathroom, across the hall and into his room, quickly shutting the door. He reached for his phone, the screen already lit.

He could not answer. What would he say? He thought this would have made him happy, that his parents would ask questions, get to know who he was a little better. Instead they were silent. His mother asked if he was sure. He was sure. That was why he’d told them.

He lay down on the bed. Stretched his arms and legs out. That didn’t feel right. He pulled his legs up to his chest and sobbed. Could they hear him down the hall? He was not broken – they had broken him.

He lay there for another ten minutes. His phone buzzed. Sam.

The doorbell rang twenty minutes later. Muffled speech made its way from the front door to his room. The smell of pizza. Footsteps fell in the hall, followed by a tap on the door.

“Hey, I brought pizza. Can I come in?”

A strangled “yes” pushed itself out, and Sam entered. Her eyes widened, but then relaxed. She was not going to mention it.

Sam smiled, sat on the bed, and opened the pizza boxes. Vegetarian and margherita, his favourite. They ate in silence.

“So, I take it didn’t go well?”

He shook his head.

“I’m sorry.”

He shrugged. He couldn’t look up. His eyes were glued to the remaining cheese and sauce stuck to the cardboard.

“Do you want me to talk to them?”

Another shrug. The tears started again, rolling down his burning cheeks, falling onto the blanket and the cardboard. He wanted to talk. Get it all out. But his throat was tight. It hurt. His throat, his eyes, his head – it all hurt.

Sam pulled her bag up onto the bed and took out her laptop. She switched it on, signed in and loaded Netflix. They watched an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Then another, and another. The tears stopped, and by episode six he was smiling, laughing.

Was he ready? He didn’t know.

The pizza boxes sat on the floor. Sam looked down at them from the bed.

“Want to go put them in the trash?”

He was hesitant, but then nodded.

They both got up. Sam was coming with him. They picked up the boxes, one each, and Sam opened the door.

They made their way down the hall slowly. The kitchen was empty when they reached the entryway, so they moved forward. Past the counter and over to the bins. Sam opened the bin with her foot and placed her box inside. She took the box from his arms and put that in the bin too. Their mission was a success.

They both turned to go back the way they’d come. And there she stood. His mother, blocking the exit.

A gasp escaped her lips.

“Stephanie, your hair…”

Sam stepped forward in defence.

He looked down, then up. He was ready.

“My name is Adrian.”

They walked past his mother and back into his room, shut the door, and started the next episode.

Ina Lee

The author Ina Lee

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