by B.L. Koller
from Weird Mask Issue 1
Out of all the things Branson wanted to do today, this was by far the worst. He pulled out his phone to check the time as he walked towards the building, and held the door open for an elderly couple making their way out.
“Thank you, young man.” The elderly woman glanced over at him curiously.
“See, Harold, I told you he wasn’t homeless!”
“Have a good day.” What else could he have said. In any case, it allowed him a few more seconds before he had to wander over to the lift.
Homeless. Did he really look that bad? No, he couldn’t. He’d put on quite a bit of weight back on since getting out of rehab. Blue eyes and his own reflection stared back at him. Nearly a shadow of his former self. Old Branson was coming back, and he was really trying to buy into this whole ‘you’re a better person when you’re not sticking your fingers down your throat’ thing.
He ran a hand over his jaw. The goal was to reduce the beard down to a goatee as he became more comfortable looking at his own reflection. However, since he avoided looking at himself whenever possible, it made the task of shaving all the more difficult. In other words, Branson just couldn’t be bothered to do so.
His eyes locked on the elevator button, avoiding his own reflection. He caught a glimpse of the orange beanie atop his head before the doors slid open, and he took a step in. Branson jabbed his finger onto the 5 button, and hurriedly hit the door close button before somebody could step on the lift with him.
When he arrived on his floor, he followed the hallway, made a left at the water fountain, and found room 234. Branson looked around the room, a plant with a Beta fish sat near the sign in sheet. He could hear muffled voices behind a closed door. With a shrug, Branson sat down in a nearby chair, glanced at the magazines on a coffee table, and pulled out his phone.
Arrived with five minutes to spare.
Depending on how this thing went, he would be sure to continue to be early, or fashionably late. Talking about feelings wasn’t exactly his strong point. He preferred to take all his emotions, and flush them down the toilet.
His left hand found his pocket, and his fingers tapped out the beat of some reggae song on the pack of cigarettes. Rehab hadn’t bothered to try to get him to quit that habit, they were more concerned with getting him back in shape.
The door creaked open, his eyes fell to the ground as the previous patient walked past him in black and white vans.
“You must be Branson,” Doctor H spoke through her nose. A voice that was almost as pleasant as nails on a chalkboard. Nevertheless, he stood and smiled faintly.
“That’s the name Mum and Dad gave me.”
She tilted her head to the side, her black hair framed her face in a neat a line bob.
“Do you prefer to go by something else?”
“No,” he laughed. “I was only joking, Doc.”
Her teeth were perfect. She was pretty. Shame she was his therapist. He’d probably fuck her if they’d met anywhere else. She looked close enough to his type. Branson smiled, being sure to keep his mouth shut. His teeth hadn’t been in the best condition as it were, A year and some odd months of puking up all his meals had destroyed his already imperfect teeth. Just one more thing for him to be self conscious of.
“Why don’t you come have a seat in here? Much more comfortable I think.”
Branson strode over, head held high, shoulders back as he stepped into the shrinks office. She closed the door behind her, and took a seat in a nearby leather desk chair. He took a seat on the plaid couch and folded his hands in his lap neatly, eyes skimming her over as she searched for his file and a pen.
“This is your first visit?”
“So where would you like to begin?”
Branson looked around the office. Varying degrees from this school and that hung on the wall over the Doctors head. His eyes skimmed over her desk. Neat and organized. The only picture that sat on her desk was a sleeping tabby cat. No wedding ring on her finger, no pictures of anyone.
She must be single. Excellent. This should be fun.
“Dunno. Never been to one of these.”
She scribbled something down in her notes and smiled back up at him.
“Now, that’s not entirely true, Branson.”
“Well, rehab and counseling ain’t exactly the same thing now, is it, love?”
She hummed, and tapped thoughtfully with her pen.
“Well, you did see someone in Rehab according to your file.”
“He was a hack. Didn’t know how to keep things interesting. And it didn’t even work. Just shoved pills down m’ throat as if that was the magic cure. Jokes on him. Didn’t do jack shit when I puked ‘em back up again.”
“There are other methods besides pills.”
A fake plant sat in the corner of the room. Above that was a poster of a koi pond. It would be pretty, or at least he assumed it would. Colorblindness made the world all the more dull.
“Branson,” she said.
“That’s me, love.”
“I would prefer if you didn’t call me that.”
He smirked up at her. This was going to be easy. Find what makes her tick, exploit it, and get the fuck out of here so he could go on another binge. He was starting to feel hungry. Which doctors normally took as a good sign. He’d played nice in rehab. Did as they told him. It wasn’t that he didn’t want help, he just liked being fucked up. It was like being drunk without even having to drink. And more importantly, it got him attention.
“Ah,” he chuckled. “My apologies, doc.”
“So, when did this all start?”
He glanced up towards the ceiling, and shrugged.
“Bout a year or so ago, I reckon. Should say it in the file.”
“Yes, it does. But I’d much rather hear it from you, than read your file.”
His eyes rolled back into his head, arms crossed over his chest before he set his eyes on her again.
“I’m not very good at talking bout it.”
“Then let’s talk about something else then. What are your hobbies?”
“Why do you like French so much?”
“Dunno. I reckon I’m good at it.”
“You’re currently working on getting a degree in French, right?”
“What made you choose French?”
“Mum said I had to get a degree in something. French was always my favorite subject in school. Reckoned it was a good fit.”
That was true. Branson was an absolute nightmare in all other classes. Nothing could quite hold his interests. It was even worse when none of his mates were in class with him. So in order to compensate, he would become as obnoxious as possible. Right up until year eleven, when his french teacher made a deal wit him. If he cleaned up his act in all his other classes, and managed to get all A’s and B’s to boost up his GPA, she would see what she could do about getting him into the study abroad program.
It took a lot of effort, but he managed to do it. Though, he still had difficulty sitting still. The other teachers would get rather annoyed by his foot tapping, or continuously clicking his pen. However, it did make it easier for them to conduct a class without him trying to throw crumpled bits of paper across the room, or climb out the second story window when he got bored.
“Did you enjoy your time abroad, then?”
Branson chewed the inside of his cheek, and slumped slightly.
“Was Paris not what you thought it’d be?”
“Paris wasn’t the problem. I loved Paris. I had fun speaking and everything but, I got…”
Lonely, depressed, and homesick.
“Culture shock.” A lace was loose, so Branson propped it up on his thigh, and retied the trainer. His gaze drifted back to her. She smiled at him, sympathetically.
“Change is hard for a lot of people.”
“You made friends though, didn’t you?”
“Course!” His mouth turned upwards at a memory. “We all had a lotta fun. Maybe a bit too much at times.”
“Dunno. Just. Party after party. Meal after meal. Started to catch up to me. One day I ate and drank oil I made myself sick. First time. I felt horrible one second, then the next. Bam. Nothing.”
They looked at each other for a moment. Finally her eyes fell back to her notes. She was also left handed. Something the two of them had in common.
“So, you’re a lefty too, eh?”
She smirked. “Ambidextrous, actually.”
Branson smirked back at her, and chuckled as he pulled out a cigarette from the pack. He had no intention of lighting up, but it caught her attention pretty damn quick.
“You can’t smoke in here.”
“I know. Wasn’t planning on it, lo- Doc. Just like the feel of it.”
“Well, as long as you don’t light it. Tell me more about these parties, Branson.”
He leaned back, a smug smirk on his face as both his arms spanned the rest of the couch.
“Lots of drinking. Don’t remember most of it. I mostly remember feeling like absolute shit the next day. I remember more mornings after the fact than I do actual parties if we’re being honest.”
“Well,” She tilted her head t the side. “That is kind of the point of you coming here, is it not?”
The cigarette twitched in his mouth.
So she took the bait.
“I reckon it is, isn’t it?”
A moment or two of silence stretched between them. She scribbled more notes, and Branson stared out the window. He watched as a bird flew from the tree. A babies head poked out from the nest, and he couldn’t help but smile. Branson had a soft spot for children of all shapes and sizes.
“Did anything besides drinking and eating happen at these parties?”
“That’s a little personal for the first session, don’t you think, Doc?”
She sighed a bit, but nodded reluctantly.
“We’ll work our way up to it, if you’re not ready to talk. How have you been adjusting since you got home?”
“Well enough, I reckon.”
It was true enough. Instead of puking every meal back up, he limited it to one meal a day. Usually breakfast because that’s when Branson felt his worst. He felt too full after breakfast because that would be the first binge of the day.
“Tell me about your morning routine.”
“What do you do in the morning?”
“Probably the same thing you do. Get up, eat. Feed the chickens. Take a shower. Helen comes over and makes breakfast.”
“I’m a farmer.”
All true statements, though truth be told he was leaving a lot out. Helen, his ex girlfriend, now dating his best friend came over every morning to make sure he didn’t puke up the breakfast she made him. But there was a loophole to all that. He set his alarm an hour early, slid three to five waffles into his toaster oven, ate them all, went to the bathroom, stuck his fingers down his throat before they had time to settle. Funny thing about puke was, if you waited too long to puke everything up, it made your bathroom reek. However, if you binged and then purged ten or fifteen minutes after, it was like magic. No odor. No suspicion.
“And Helen is your sponsor, right?”
“What made you choose Helen?”
“She’s a hard-ass. Keeps me in check more than my mates. Well, Jerry was probably the better option but. You try telling your best mates that you like puking up all your meals. Bulimia is sorta a girls thing. I ain’t no girl.”
“So you thought it would be easier to tell her about it because she’s a girl?”
Branson just missed her the most. He was also infuriated with her at the same time. They’d dated for four years, and four weeks after he left for Paris and he’d broken things off Helen had already moved on.
“We have a bit of a history together. She’s with my best mate now, though.”
“Does that upset you?”
“But it did at one point?”
He took the cigarette in between his middle and pointer finger.
“Wouldn’t you be annoyed if your best friend started dating your ex without asking?”
“I suppose I would, yes.”
Branson sat forward in the chair, and ran a hand over his beard, and glanced down at his hand. The cuts had mostly turned to scars. Binging and purging was a lot easier to hide than a lot of people might think. A change here and there, and it’s almost like you’re better to the outsiders who don’t pay attention. Cuts on his hands, sure that was a tell that he’d made himself sick. However, sticking a toothbrush down your throat didn’t leave cuts on your knuckles. Ripping up the boxes and tossing them out made it difficult to tell if you binged. Because there was no way of telling how much or how little he ate. It was just a torn up box in the bin. It must have been working because Helen hadn’t caught on just yet.
“What made you turn to binging, Bran?”
“Don’t call me that.”
What did make me turn to it?
His eyes drifted up towards the ceiling as he pondered the question.
“I don’t think it was a conscious decision. More of an accidental habit. I got nervous, so I’d puke. Felt better for a bit after. I liked feeling empty. It eased my anxiety for the moment. Made me want to go back to the party. Binging kept my mind off things I guess.”
“So it wasn’t really a weight issue?”
“No, not really. I was pretty fit when I left. Wasn’t over or under weight for a nineteen year old bloke from Yorkshire – or anywhere really.”
Branson paused, and listened to the scribbling of her pen. He wondered what her handwriting looked like. If he had to take a guess by the way her pen moved, Branson would wager that she wrote in cursive. Tiny movements so that everything flowed. Whenever she finished writing out a word, her pen scarcely left the paper for a space.
Her handwriting’s probably worlds better than mine.
“Did you have any self image issues at all? Low self esteem or anything like that?”
Damn she’s good.
“I may have dyed my hair brown in high school to stand out from my siblings. And my teeth ain’t the best in the world. Should have gotten braces when I was younger, but that never happened.”
“It’s not too late to get them.”
“Dentist says I have to get veneers anyway. Did a lot of damage to em.”
“You said Helen was your ex girlfriend, right? Are you seeing anyone right now?”
“That depends on what your definition of seeing people is, Doc.”
“Are you dating anyone right now? Someone caught your fancy?”
“Lotta girls catch my fancy. But nah. Dating’s not really my thing at the moment. I much prefer to keep things….well, lets say, I prefer to keep it casual.”
She smiled. “Right. Well, I think our hour is nearly up. I think I should see you again next week. Would the same time be good for you?”
Branson pulled out his phone. Not because he was checking his calendar or anything, but because he intended on getting her number. But, he’d pretend to be checking his schedule.
“Same time looks good for me, Doc.”
“Hey Doc, can I get your number. In case something comes up and I need to text you or whatever.”
“Of course. But no drinks. I don’t date clients.”
Branson’s eyebrows shot up, but he couldn’t help but laugh.
“You catch on quick, Doc.”
“It’s kinda my job to read people like books, Branson.”
“Fair enough.” He laughed again before she read out her number to him.
Shame. She’s cute. Cute face, nice tits. Can’t blame a guy for trying, eh?
He stood and stretched before returning the unlit cigarette to his lips. That was going to be the first thing he did. Have a smoke. Let the methol flavor wash over his tongue. Let the heat of the smoke sting at his throat and lungs. Trading one vice for another. Smoking kept him distracted long enough. And he had to get it out of his system now. He had a strict no smoking on the farm policy. Just because he wanted to destroy his lungs, didn’t mean he wanted to hurt his chickens.
The elevator ride down wasn’t so bad. He still avoided his reflection, and was relieved to be out of there. Branson pulled the lighter from his pocket, lit up as he unlocked the car, and headed home to go on another binge and purge.
He didn’t understand why he wanted to hit that self destruct button, but all he knew was that he liked it. Liked the rush of it all. The temptation of the forbidden, and the way his throat burned.
Holy shit. I really do need bloody help.