Of Mice and Men Ch. 04byGweall©
Ethan smiled at Trish as he jogged to the elevator.
"Where are you headed?" She sat up in her seat, looking confused and a little pleased.
"I'm taking Carey to a support group for people who deal with phobias," Ethan smiled.
"What? You convinced him to leave?" Trisha stood up, shocked.
"Yeah, why?" Ethan stopped as she ran up to him, her heels tapping on the tile floor.
"You don't understand. He hasn't left this place since he was released from the labs he was kept in," she said, jaw nearly touching the floor. "All the doctor visits, groceries, everything is delivered to him," she said.
"So he really hasn't been outside in-"
"2 years!" Trish giggled and jumped up and down. "This is a huge breakthrough! Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh!" She giggled as her blonde hair bounced around her shoulders.
"Wow... well, wish me luck!" Ethan smiled, and pushed the button to call the elevator. He jogged down the hall and nearly laughed at how happy he was to spend the day with Carey, outside. He knocked quickly and waited, when he heard no reply, he frowned for the first time that day. "Carey? You there?" Of course he was there, Carey was always there. He poked his head inside and saw that the apartment was dark, as usual. "Carey?" he called out in a sing song voice, searching the dark living room with his eyes. When there was still no response, Ethan stepped inside.
Everything was silent and empty as Ethan searched through the apartment. After searching every room and finding them all empty, he was beginning to get worried. He was about to head back downstairs when he heard a faint sound from somewhere within the apartment. He paused and listened. The sound floated to his ears, a sob. He looked around again, stopping in each room until he finally reached the bedroom where the sound was loudest.
"Carey?" he whispered. There was another sob, a little louder this time. He rolled his eyes and leaned against the wall next to the closet door. He stood there for a second before knocking softly. "Carey... come on out," he said. There was no response other than another sob. Finally Ethan opened the door. Carey looked up, his wide black eyes reflecting the bedside light Ethan had turned on. Shirts and pants dangled above his head, brushing his large round white ears. His knees were tucked up against his chest, with his arms wrapped around them defensively. He sniffed again, his small nose twitching as he wiped away the tears that had matted the fur under his eyes. "Carey, come on, you can't be that scared," Ethan said, in a soft voice.
"I'm sorry," Carey whispered.
"Don't be sorry." Ethan sat down in the closet with him. "You just need to face your fears. If you don't, then you'll never be in control of your own life. Out of all the people I know, I would think you would want that control more than anyone else," Ethan said.
"I do," Carey whispered. "But it's not that easy." He let out a big sigh as he cleaned up the rest of his tears.
"Yes, it is," Ethan stated. "If you want something, you have to reach out and take it. If you feel something, act on it," Ethan urged, and was surprised when Carey let out a laugh. "What?" he frowned.
"I think we could both use a lesson from each other. I need to do more taking and acting, and you should probably do a little less," he blushed and smiled a small smile. Ethan laughed.
"Yeah, I suppose I should. Come on." He stood up, and pulled Carey up by his hands. Carey brushed himself off and played with his tail nervously. "Uh, you should probably put a shirt on," Ethan said. "And shoes," he added.
"I don't like shirts... they feel weird on my fur." He brushed a small delicate hand across his lightly furred chest. Ethan felt his cock jump in his pants as Carey absentmindedly brushed his nipple.
"Alright, I'm sure they'll be understanding about that," Ethan mumbled, looking Carey up and down again. "But what about shoes?" he asked.
"I don't own any," Carey replied.
"What? No shoes at all?" he asked. Carey shook his head.
"They hurt my feet," he whined. "Plus I never leave the house, so..." he shrugged. Ethan sighed.
"Okay, well I don't want you to hurt your feet, here." Ethan sat down on Carey's bed and tugged off the brown work boots he had on. He tossed them at Carey who slipped them on. They were way too big and he looked like a child playing in his father's shoes
"Thanks," Carey muttered. Ethan smiled as he watched Carey clomp around in his shoes.
"No problem," he held back the laugh. "We can go buy you some on the way," he suggested.
"I don't have any money," Carey whispered. "The program pays for just enough food for me to get by and not much else," he clarified.
"That's okay, I have some cash. If you don't mind wearing something from a thrift store," Ethan shrugged. Carey smiled.
"No, that's okay... thank you," he whispered shyly. Ethan nodded and took his hand, leading him to the living room. He was already out the door and into the hallway and when he looked back. He saw a very pale Carey standing in the doorway, staring at the green carpeted floor of the apartment hallway.
"Come on, Carey. I'm right here, you'll be fine," Ethan smiled. Carey bit his lip, and stepped out into the hallway. He kept his head down and walked with Ethan in silence as they headed for the elevator. By the time the large metal doors closed, Carey was an inch away from hyperventilating. "Carey, you gotta calm down. I know it's been a long time since you've been out of your apartment, but things have changed. Infected don't have to hide as much as they used to. People have gotten used to seeing them around, most don't even care about it anymore," Ethan said.
"You care," Carey whispered.
"Yeah, well... I'm a jerk. We're working on that tomorrow, right?" Ethan asked. They had agreed that Carey would go to his support group, and if he did as he was told, Ethan would see someone too.
"If I survive the day," Carey mumbled.
"You'll be okay." Ethan smiled, as the doors opened and they stepped out. Carey slid his hand into Ethan's for comfort as they walked across the tiled floor of the front room. Ethan's boots dangled from Carey's feet, making his steps echo loudly.
"Oh my gosh! Carey, I'm so happy for you!" Trish greeted him and gave him a kiss on each cheek. Carey smiled queasily and refused to release Ethan's hand. The grip and the soft fur on his hand made Ethan's heart pound. He couldn't understand why he was feeling this way with Carey. He had loved Chris, he really had. But this was different. This was something else. Not lust and not love. He didn't know.
"Ethan?" Carey tugged at his hand. Ethan blinked out of his thoughts, and smiled.
"Come on, lets go." Ethan smiled wider and pulled Carey to the door. Carey took a deep breath, as if he was getting ready to dive into the ocean, and stepped outside. The bustling city around them made him dizzy at first, but he got his bearings quickly. In a few minutes, he was clinging to Ethan's side as they headed into an empty thrift store. Ethan helped him find a pair of shoes that fit, and that were relatively comfortable. Once he paid for the four dollar shoes, they headed to the community center where the support group was being held.
"I don't know if I can do this," Carey hugged his tail tightly in his arms. Ethan smiled and Turned Carey to face him. He pushed his arms away so that his tail fell behind him, curving around his left side onto the ground. He forced Carey's arms to rest at his side, and before he could do anything about it, mused his hair so that it fell in a lazy fashion around his head. His ears were hidden in the unevenly cut mop of white hair on his head, but they still poked out. The round pink ears, covered in white fur, moved uneasily as Ethan bent to tie Carey's shoe as if he was a helpless child.
"There, you look fine. You'll be fine. Just remember that no one is here to judge you," Ethan smiled.
"Okay," Carey murmured. Ethan smiled, and pushed him ahead into the clean and newer looking building.
The room was easy enough to find. A printed sign on the door read 'Phobia Support Meeting'. Carey fiddled with his tail, before Ethan slapped the appendage from his hands. Carey pouted and then turned to the closed door. He took a deep breath before turning the knob.
A few people mingled around the medium sized room. There was a fold out table against one wall with some coffee, water, and a pitcher of orange juice. Next to the drinks were trays of cookies and other snacks. No one had sat down in the large circle of chairs yet, but it looked like they were getting ready to. Everyone was grabbing their drinks and snacks, and heading to the seats.
"Go ahead and sit anywhere you like," a tall man said, as he took a seat.
"Come on," Ethan urged, and grabbed his hand. He pulled Carey over to the seat next to his.
"Okay," he whispered, though he was already sitting down. In a minute or two, every seat was filled, and someone was looking for a few more for people who were standing around. Once they had accommodated everybody, the meeting began.
"I'd just like to welcome everyone. I guess I'll start by introducing myself. My name's Paul. Why don't you go around introducing yourselves?" Paul said, gesturing to the man at his right.
"Uh... Hi. I'm Steve." The man gave a weak wave, and then looked to the man to his right.
"Tom." Finally all the eyes landed on Carey. Ethan watched as his ears fell back against his skull and he reached for his tail. Ethan gently slapped his hand away, making Carey look up at him with fear in his eyes. He nodded, as everyone was waiting.
"Uh... Carey," he whispered.
"Ethan." Ethan nodded and waved.
"Good, it's nice to meet you all. Now, just so I can get a feel for the room, who here is a supporter, and who here actually has a phobia?" Paul asked. Everyone was silent for a moment, so Ethan spoke up.
"I'm a supporter," he said, nodding at Carey, who still looked petrified.
"Me too," Sue said, and took Pam's hand. Everyone else remained silent.
"Okay, well both of you are welcome, of course. And I'm to assume that everyone else here suffers from a phobia?" Paul asked, A few people nodded but most were silent. It was then that Ethan noticed Carey was the only infected in the group. It was obvious Carey noticed this as well, as his anxiety began to build.
"I'm Achluophobic," Gordon said. "Fear of the dark," he added. Paul gave a small smile.
"Thank you, Gordon, for getting the ball rolling. Anyone else?" Paul asked.
"I have Eisoptrophobia. Fear of mirrors," Pam said. Ethan thought it was weird. She was very pretty with long blonde hair that fell in thick curls around her perfectly sculpted face. Her blue eyes sparkled happily, and her well manicured nails were wrapped in Sue's hand.
"Uh, Gelotophobia... is uh... what I have..." Ali mumbled. Everyone seemed to be waiting for an explanation. "Fear of... uh... being laughed at." She ducked her head.
"Well, you don't have to worry about that here," Paul smiled.
"Kakorrhaphiophobia and Kainolophobia and Catagelophobia," Angelo muttered, with a thick accent. "I don't like new things. I'm afraid of doing something wrong or failing," he explained. Once again, all eyes turned to Carey.
"Oh... uh..." he was beginning to hyperventilate. Ethan took his hand and gave him a reassuring look. Carey took a deep breath. "Uh, Latrophobia, Aichmophobia, Nosocomephobia," Carey said. "Doctors, needles, and hospitals," he whispered.
"And some Agoraphobia," Ethan pointed out.
"Oh, yeah." Carey blushed and reached for his tail, again. Ethan slapped his hand away for the millionth time that night. Carey shot him an angry look and Ethan silently mouthed the words, 'stop that'. He gave Carey and equally mean glare. Carey pouted and looked back at the ground.
"Alright, that's okay," Paul smiled. "Everyone needs to understand that this is a safe space for all of us, no one is going to judge you here. You're going to be okay." Paul gave a reassuring smile. Ethan noticed Carey visibly relax a little bit. Just a little.
The group talked for a long time. The meeting was supposed to be an hour long, but it ended up stretching to almost two hours. When they hit the hour mark, Paul quickly asked if anyone needed to go or if they wanted to continue since they were on such a roll. When everyone remained silent, the conversation Paul had interrupted picked up again. After almost two hours of everyone talking about everything under the sun, the group finally split.
It was during the slow walk back to Carey's apartment that Ethan really saw the change in him. Instead of holding his tail, his hands were at his side and his tail brushed the ground gently behind him. He was smiling, and only glanced around nervously every few minutes instead of every four seconds like he had on the way there.
"You seem to be a bit more comfortable out here," Ethan pointed out.
"I am," Carey nodded. "I mean, I would still rather be inside my apartment. Nice... and safe..." he whispered, looking around. He snapped out of it and continued speaking. "But I'm with you and talking to those people really helped. I feel a lot better," Carey admitted.
"Good. Do you want to go back again next week?" Ethan asked. Carey nodded.
"This is the first time in a long time where I've felt like my fears don't control me. I feel so free!" Carey giggled, before covering his mouth with a clawed hand, and laughing more quietly this time. Ethan laughed.
"See, I knew you could do it. You survived the night," Ethan winked.
"Yup, and you know what that means," Carey said, in a sing song voice. Ethan groaned.
"Ugh, I was hoping you forgot about my side of the deal," he mumbled.
"It won't be so bad, Ethan. It really helped me, I'm sure it will help you too," Carey smiled. Ethan stared into his shining eyes and frowned for a second.
"How old are you?" he asked out of nowhere. Carey looked taken aback, but recovered quickly.
"Really? You don't look it," Ethan smiled. Carey smiled with him.
"Really? Thank you." His blush showed through his white fur. "Well... to be honest..." he looked around as if someone was listening in. "I've been thirty for two years now," he giggled.
"32 huh? You definitely don't seem like it." Ethan smiled to himself.
"How old are you?" Carey asked.
"Turn your age around," Ethan said.
"What!?" Carey stopped walking. "No way in hell you're 23," he said. Ethan pouted.
"How old do I look?" he frowned.
"Well, it's not how you look. It's just... I don't know," Carey pouted. "God, you're so young." Carey put his head in his hands.
"I am not," Ethan laughed.
"Oh yes you are. Because if you're not young than that makes me old-." Ethan opened his mouth. "And you better not say a word about that or our friendship is over," Carey pointed at him. Ethan shut his mouth and smiled. "Now enough changing the subject. I'll see you tomorrow." Carey smiled, as they stopped in front of the building that housed hundreds of troubled infected.
"Tomorrow... right. Are you sure you don't want me to walk you up?" Ethan asked. Carey looked up at the building, and sighed.
"No, I want to try this for myself," he said. Ethan smiled.
"Okay. Good luck," he said, as he began walking away.
"Thanks," Carey smiled. Ethan turned and walked backwards, watching as Carey reached for the door handle. He stopped walking and paused. For a moment, his mind flashed to one of those cheesy movie scenes where the guy runs and gives his date a goodnight kiss, leaving her blushing and giggling. But only for a moment. He quickly snapped out of his trance, and left.
"This isn't a good idea, Carey," Ethan stated, as the bus hummed beneath them. Carey placed a clawed hand on Ethan's shoulder, making him twitch slightly, but he didn't seem to notice.
"I didn't think yesterday was a good idea, either. But just trust me, okay? It helps," Carey said. He hadn't been quite as confident being outside as he had the night before, but it was still a small difference from the first time they had ventured into the outside world. He seemed to calm down a little when they got into the bus and sat down. Ethan supposed that it was just his mouse instincts kicking in, small spaces meant you were safer from predators.
Carey could tell that Ethan was nervous. He could clearly see the fake 'macho guy' attitude just under the surface. Talking to somebody meant you were weak. At least that's how Ethan saw it. They finally arrived downtown. Carey didn't like the crowds that pushed and shoved down the street, but if it was for Ethan, it was worth it.
Ethan got more and more nervous as the visit with the therapist came closer. He was happy when he met Carey at his apartment. He was annoyed and slightly worried when they were on the bus. As they walked down the street he became more and more agitated. Now, sitting in the waiting room of the therapists office, he was down right pissed.
"Come on, Carey. Lets just leave. This place looks like a dump anyways," he stood. Carey reached for his hand and pulled him back down into his seat.
"Dr. Nelson is a good friend of mine. I spent my internship with her." When he saw Ethan was giving him a hard glare, he stopped. "Uh... never mind. Point is, you can trust her, she's a really good doctor," Carey said.
"Right," Ethan mumbled.
"Come on, at least do this for me. I agreed to the terms, now you have to hold up your end," Carey said.
"Alright, alright," he snapped. Carey stared at him for a moment before lowering his head. He still felt uncomfortable making eye contact with people. He was beginning to wonder if he would ever get over his anxiety.
"No, this is bullshit!" Ethan said, as he slammed the door open to the therapy room.
"Ethan!" Carey called after him, and then let his ears shrink back as the entire waiting room turned to stare at him. Of course the 'entire waiting room' consisted of no more than three people, including the secretary.
"No, I'm not doing this!" he shouted, storming out the front door of the office. Dr. Nelson stood behind Carey as Ethan stomped out onto the sidewalk. Carey sighed and chased after him, apologizing to his friend as he left.
"Ethan, what's wrong? You were just starting to open up!" Carey said, running to keep up with Ethan. He bumped people as he went, making him nervous and twitchy.
"I don't want to open up. It's none of her business what's happened in my past," Ethan said, weaving through the crowds of people.
"What's happened in your past that you don't want to talk about? Ethan, just talk to me!" Carey pleaded, as a tall man bumped into him, sending him towards the curb.
"I don't know just... just be quiet!" Ethan covered his ears, as if trying to block Carey out.
"Ethan, please. Just talk to me!" Carey begged.
"Just shut up, Carey! Just shut the fuck up!" Ethan turned and shouted at him. He left Carey stunned, in the middle of the street. He turned, and walked in the opposite direction. Carey stood there for a second, wondering what had triggered the sudden anger in Ethan. But when he finally snapped out of his trance, he realized he was alone in the middle of a bustling downtown district. He froze, and felt as if every person was staring at him. In truth, no one even noticed the small mousy man in the middle of the sidewalk. But to him, the whole world had a spotlight focusing directly on him. He felt his chest draw in tight and he began to get dizzy as he started hyperventilating. He gasped for air and looked at the swarm of people around him. He whimpered and hugged the brick wall of a building. His heart pounded in his chest, echoing in his ears as he tried to block out the packs of people around him. He screamed bloody murder when he felt a firm hand grip his elbow.